It’s been almost a year since I arrived at Sydney airport. Tim picked me up and we drove to Merimbula and we celebrated Christmas with his family. I had never spent time away from home for this amount of time and in that time I’ve been away, a lot has happened.
It is a curious business to settle into a new country. Whether you’re confident or open-minded or anxious, entering a new world is equally mysterious and exciting and scary. The foundation you’ve carefully built your life on for many years suddenly trembles and shudders like a faulty building, for the workers and carers and supervisors are all absent.
Feeling alone became a sense I had not experienced before. Insecurity got the better of me at moments I wish I could’ve been better. But I discovered that loosing my sense of stability eventually helped to gain a deeper understanding of myself. I shed my familiar skin and grew a new and thicker one.
My vulnerability in the past few months is not something I’m particularly proud of, but it taught me that loosing gravity is not meant for the faint of heart. I reidentified myself and I gained new friends (and family) who pulled me back to the earth. After a while, I learned to understand the culture better, the etiquettes and the specific ways of communication. I find myself talking in a way I did not expect to hear in just the couple of months I’ve been arround. I supose the desire to ‘fit in’ helped me pick up on those small things. Although everyone still picks up on my foreign accent.
Becoming part Australian entails that I’ll live a double life from now on. This country had already stolen my heart the first time I embarked from that plane in Melbourne, and now it has become part of my identity. I’ll miss the Netherlands when I’m here and I’ll miss Australia when I’m there. I’m glad for it. There’s a gratifying mysteriousness about living a double life.
Living in Australia and having to deal with Visa’s for the first time, made me realize actually how important it is to be able to acquire your right to stay in a certain country. There’s far more to it than just applying for a certain visa. Besides trying to figure out which visa applies to you and attempting not to miss the small, yet important lines, what passport you’re currently holding is paramount.
A report was posted on the 9th of October 2018 by the world leading global citizenship and residency advisory firm Henly & Partners, in which they ranked the most influential country documents that hold the key to cross borders. Considering 227 travel destinations for the 199 passports in their system, they thoroughly researched which passport is the most desirable for any keen traveller, assuming your main purpose is to visit for tourist or business purposes.
They stated that at the moment, Japan holds the strongest passport with access to 190 destinations (of the 227!), with Singapore (189) not far behind. Germany, France and South Korea are placed third with 188 countries to travel to, where Germany has been pushed back to third place since 2014. Denmark, Finland, Italy, Spain and Sweden hold fourth place with 187. Powerful US and UK, together with my beloved Netherlands, Austria, Norway and Portugal enjoy the fifth place with 186 accessible countries. Interestingly enough, the US and Uk both held the first spot in 2015, but have been descending ever since the Asian high-performers Japan, Singapore and South Korea started to take the lead. Noticeably, the Middle East, South America and Africa are further down the list. However, the United Arab Emirates has made it from the 62nd place in 2006 to a whopping 21st place this year, currently holding the number 1 most powerful passport of the Middle East. Furthermore, it is interesting to see how the list is dominated by Western-oriented countries, where the Asian countries emerge impressively. Australia holds the seventh spot, together with Greece and Malta (183).
Obviously, being able to obtain immediate access to a country for tourist or business reasons is not what every traveller is after. In my opinion, truly treasured countries are those who offer you the possibility to stay for at least 12 months with opportunities to work and travel, like New Zealand, Australia and Canada. Being a European citizen opens up so many doors as well, where I’d be able to live anywhere in Europe for no particular set period.
Although these numbers do not fully depict a realistic view for a traveller, they do teach us an interesting perspective on how the world is currently set. Richness, power, global influence, peace and natural resources play an important role in why a particular country is able to afford themselves the luxury of tourism. Bonds and connections formed between certain countries create a combined domination of what passports they’ll allow. What would the world be like without borders?
The Islanders are renown for their unconditional friendliness and genuine warmth, and I can vouch for that. Throughout my stay in Australia, I feel like their constant hospitality utterly astonished me. Besides the odd grumpy one, they have such a developed sense of empathy and an understanding of how the human mind likes to be treated.
Hospitality is the immediate environment where it can be noticed. ‘Instant gratification’ -the need for humans to feel acknowledged and praised- is common sense in the world of beer pouring and cocktail making. An instant smile appears when I tell them that Hendriks Gin is also my favourite gin for a GT. I am still amazed by the laid-back way a bartender can ask ‘how their day’s going’ and how the lazily leaning-on-the-counter Australian would reply with a genuine report on their day’s activities. “Oh you know, I just finished a tough workday, got some bad news from my auntie in New Zealand, she might need to be hospitalized, – yes, the Panhead XPA would be great, thanks- but yeah, everything’s fine, just having an easy afternoon with my family-in-law. How’s your day going?”
In my head, I keep comparing to what I’ve been used to in my almost 9 years of experience in hospitality in the Netherlands. Hardly any words are exchanged in the transaction of a Dutch individual requesting a Weihenstephaner Hefe Weissbier at any bar and if I even have the nerves to ask them how their day’s been, I’d receive the bluntest reply possible. Not that I’m here to rain down on Dutch mannerisms, though there is something to learn from this massive difference in culture. Although I have to admit it was rather hard for me to get to understand their small talk, it now feels as if I’m building an emotional bond with every customer who lands at my bar for an Afternoon Delight. I absolutely love it.
There’s something to say for both parties. Sometimes you’re just not in the mood to discuss your reason to decide to drink a double bourbon-coke at 11am. Nevertheless, these brief conversations offer someone a brief peek into their personal life, which gives the general Australian a feel of vulnerability and neighbourliness. Even if I tried really hard, I couldn’t find a way to not love this country and its inhabitants.
A lovely sunny morning had made way for an ominously cloudy afternoon, and so I took the bus to work. While the drizzle softly ticked against the windows and streetlights flashed by like fireflies in the night, I noticed a man sitting in the corner. Now, since a bus is a public form of transport and since the evening was not so far advanced that everyone had retreated to their bedrooms, it was not particularly unusual to see a man on the bus. Neither was the fact that this man had his head rested against a yellow pole, snoring peacefully yet noticeably. To be fair, I reckon everyone’s had had their share of bus napping.
However, what caught my eye most was the way he was dressed. He was a man of advanced age; silvery streaks through his dark brown hair, prominent eyebrows (and a prominent under chin, I have to add) and a large belly, where his hands rested on. Yet while this man slept harmoniously, I observed that he was wearing a beautifully coloured jumper, which could’ve been handmade. Horizontal stripes in a vague orange, pink and blue, made me think of the type of jumper the Weasley’s would wear. I expected to see a wand tucked in the back of his trousers at any moment. In the same style, a woollen scarf, casually draped around his neck and shoulder and on his head, a tweed flat hat like the ones from Peaky Blinders. I absolutely loved his appearance. He was the perfect fusion of a slightly more sophisticated George R R Martin, Ron Weasley and a golden retriever.
I suppose he caught me examining him when the bus suddenly stopped and the man roughly awoke from his fine dreams, looked around startled and caught my eye. An awkward moment followed where he clearly felt embarrassed, even after I’d smiled at him. And in the gloom of the afternoon, he shuffeled out of the bus, adjusting his hat firmly to his head and taking his cool jumper with him.
Autumn arrives in early morning, but spring at the close of a winter day – Elizabeth Bowen
While the soil is still damp from yesterday’s rain, the sun warms the porch with a radiance I had almost forgotten. Cries of the yellow-crested cockatoos fill the sky, overshadowing the soft chirping of the smaller birds. The scent of citrus, eucalyptus, freshly washed laundry and sea fill the air, a smell that I love and recognize from when I spent my first summer in Australia. Unacquainted as I was as a Dutch girl with absolute, raw heat, Australia’s summer felt relentless when I first set foot in Melbourne. I remember my first day trying to conquer the 40 degrees. In an attempt to walk from my dormitory to the cafeteria, which roughly takes 20 minutes one way, I arrived completely drenched in sweat, panting like a seal and a head so purple it could possibly match the colour of a blueberry. It was possible that in my stubbornness, I had neglected to wear something better suited for this type of weather, but at least I got a good sample of how insanely hot it can get in Melbourne.
Sydney is not the exception and a few years later, when I arrived at the Kingsford Smith airport on Christmas Eve, the heat welcomed me back like an old friend. I was surprised, with a touch of shame, how easily I got spoiled after a few months basking in its sun on the beaches of Northern Sydney. When finally winter came, a cloudy day with 18 degrees left me miserable and complaining like a sour old man, whereas it would’ve been a treasured day in Amsterdam, even in their Dutch summer. However, when the sun appeared this morning, hot, crisp and radiant, I could not help myself but to open all the windows and declare this day as its first fine spring day!
While the ants are gathering on the grey table on the porch, conspiring maliciously to squirm their way into the kitchen, and while a wild Ozzie is trying out its new chainsaw a few gardens away, I am sitting here, enjoying the lukewarm breeze and the smell of lemongrass and eucalyptus and the saltiness of the nearby sea.
I encountered the startling fact that in 1967 the Prime Minister, Harold Holt, was strolling along a beach in Victoria when he plunged into the surf and vanished. No trace of the poor man was ever seen again. This seemed doubly astounding to me – that Australia could just lose a Prime Minister (I mean, come on) – Bill Bryson from ‘Down Under’
Not that Australia minds too much about who is their Prime Minister at the moment; they seem to go through them as fast as horny koalas. Bill Bryson, however, gives a perfect illustration of how bizarre and massive this country is. With its vast, crimson wastelands, lush, city jungles and raw, undeniable refinement, Australia is notorious for its sense of adventure and not to mention its lethal and odd inhabitants. I mean, have you ever paid attention to the strangeness of the kangaroo or the wombat? The ancestors of kangaroos look like they’ve bumped into a wall and never quite recovered from it and the grandparents of the wombat were basically just massive hamsters on steroids.
Anyway, we flew to Sydney from Amsterdam and roughly planned out our trip. We wanted to drive from Sydney down to Melbourne, follow the coast to South Australia, drive through the Nullabor and from Esperance go to the Margaret River. Then to Perth, up along the coast of Western Australia, then via the Gibb River Road to the Northern Territory, Darwin. From there, to Townsville, in Queensland and drive back down back to Sydney again. This is the map, where the red line is the route we’ve driven.
There is no way to prepare yourself for a trip such as this, and so, moderately nervous, with butterflies in our belly, we drove off to start our trip around Australia. Armed with the Lonely Planet, freshly bought camp gear – except for our 25-year-old fridge -, a healthy amount of excitement to explore the unknown, old books on how to cross the Nullabor safely, and a bag of Snakes, we set off to Melbourne. Neither of us had ever travelled around Australia before on this scale. We decided to have an easy start and book our first 3 nights at Jervis Bay, to enjoy the pristine beaches and azure ocean, which was a lovely first few days, yet desperately unrepresentative of what the journey actually was going to be like. Ignorant as hungry, carrot-loving wallabies, we ventured further into the wilds of Australia.
Now, I’m not going to give you a detailed description of our trip, for then I will need to write almost as long as we’ve been away for. However, I will tell you the highlights, what we’ve learned (most likely, the hard way) and attempt to do justice to how much this trip has meant to me.
1. Weather is more important than you think
Especially when you have a relatively high tent, that needs to be pegged down firmly into the ground for it to be able to stay up. We never thought that our most fierce and persistent nemesis would be ‘the wind’. When it was cold, we simply rugged up into our woollen jumpers and blankets. We laughed when it poured and poured from the sky onto our campsite, safely dry in our tent. However, we cried, shivered with fear and dread when the wind would increase and pull and push our tent and precious awning around like an inflatable air dancing tube man. If we were very unlucky, sand would blow through our ‘windows’ and form small dunes around our bed, as if the Dutch had come and tried to keep the water out. If we were very, very unlucky, the poles of the tent would sag and cause the whole pavilion to slowly come down onto us. And I can assure you, no man as ever felt stress like we did when we would wake up to wild flapping sounds, caused by the awning who had detached from its pegs and expressed its liberation by moving through the air like a flock of panicking seagulls. No, we can decidedly say that we would prefer rain and cold over wind any f***ing day.
2. Food and water can get tricky further up north
We knew Australia regularly deals with draughts and that the further north you go, the sparser water becomes. It is essential to bring along jugs where you can store water in when you can’t get it fresh. Towns where you can find a supermarket that doesn’t try to sell you a cucumber for 8$ also become a thing up north, and so ideally you want to make sure you have enough supplies for a week or two. As a cucumber lover, though, it was hard to make them survive since the fridge would either freeze them and leave them inedible or the heat would make them foam (yes, they can foam), and taste like socks and thus leave them inedible. We basically stocked up on cans of tuna, beans and tomato sauce, used wraps instead of bread, cooked with frozen (thawed) veggies instead of fresh ones, and had either rice or pasta for dinner. In the end, you’ll become pretty inventive and making lists of food for the upcoming two weeks became something like a sport for me. Also, as the semi-alcoholics we are, buy wine in goon, preferably when they’re on discount, ’cause WA and NT have some very strict laws on alcohol.
3. Expect the unexpected
While we casually drove towards the attraction of the day in WA, listening to a True Crime podcast, nibbling on raisins, Tim suddenly saw that the backlight that was attached to the wheel had broken off and was leaning sideways, ready to hit anything that came remotely close to the car. After a rapid stop on the highway, it took us at least half an hour to get the bloody thing off. During our trip, the car posed multiple issues we had to deal with, such as a broken exhaust pipe, a dead battery, issues with the second tank and a flat tire. The ancient fridge decided to be even more of a menace than it already was, and broke its nob with which you turn it on and off. The ground in the NT and northern part of WA was often too hard for us to put a peg into, so it became a constant struggle to find a spot to put our tent down. We designed the ‘peg-test’, where Tim would pull over at a spot that looked moderately promising, I would jump out of the car with a hammer and a peg, crouch down and beat the peg furiously, nod my head in disappointment and fall back into the car, which would drive off with squeaking tires in frustration. Many odd looks of relaxing elderly we’ve had, who sat down in front of their 4 meters long luxurious campervan, though to be frank, we’ve given them many judging looks in return. One day, we drove 600 kilometres to find a place to get our tent into the ground. Things that not even crossed my mind when we started this trip, happened and often required quick problem solving, yet made this trip even more memorable than it already was.
4. How to deal with crawling and flying things
March flies, mosquitoes, sand flies, spiders, ants, guana’s, possums, flies, crocodiles, crabs, wombats and wallabies, and I am sure I’m forgetting a few more. Here is a quote from our journal to illustrate our experience with march flies:
However, as soon as we stepped out of the car, we were visciously attacked by swarms of march flies. On their own they can be annoying, but managable, but when they attack in groups, masses, of 50 at least, the whole experience of camping becomes impossible, incomprehensible, because the only thing you want to do is to get away from those nasty, little, develish, persistent flying horrors. After I had broken down into crying, I resolved to stay in the car untill they’d all gone.
Besides march flies, mosquitoes drove us crazy in the beginning, though soon we knew how to keep them at bay by using excessive amounts of insect repellent (I honestly feel that it has been my main moisturiser during those months). We’ve had possums and kangaroos and magpies tear our bins open and scatter litter everywhere, though possums where the most fun for they’d sneak up on you during the night and then freeze when you shine a light on them. One night, we had an army of crabs on our campsite, trying to climb up onto the side awning, which was hilarious since they would slide off again after a couple of centimetres. Less fun was the day up in WA with 20 flies zooming and tormenting you with a 40 degrees heat, where you can’t swim in the ocean because of the saltwater crocs. I’m thankful spiders were our least concern.
5. Meet amazing people and be awed daily by Australia's beauty
Along the road trip, we’ve met so many interesting people, from casual talks with grey nomads, obnoxious booksellers who won’t stop talking, to neighbours with who you later go out for drinks and old friends you randomly meet in a pub in the middle of nowhere. In the end, it feels as if we did half our trip travelling with other people who happened to go the same way. We had a drunken night in Agnus Water, watching the English team play soccer. We visited the local giant lobster with Tim’s old friend, and we drove in a convoy with a couple for almost 2 months through WA and NT. I would say that the trip by itself was beautiful, but the people we’ve met along the way made it just the little bit extra. There was not a day that we didn’t see either stunning mountains, fascinating wildlife and flora, gorgeous gorges, vast salt plains, dazzling sunsets and magnificent oceans. To be able to share it with people you enjoy makes it more worthwhile.
Today is a remarkable day: it is the last day we camp and sleep in our tent! It makes us feel slightly sad, but also happy, with mixed feelings of relief, nostalgia and fondess to our tent. We’ve been sleeping in our beautiful high, blue & beige square tent for more than 5 months and it has brought us so much happiness despite its faults. Today even, the middle pole was stuck and Tim had to pull it for a while with a tool to release it. Besides that, the tent had a lot to endure, causing multiple small issues we had to deal with. The pegs are the first obvious issue, but also one pole has become slightly lame and tends to sag a bit during the night when not tightened properly. The flaps are dirty, and there’s a continious smell of wetness and dirt. Nonetheless, it has been our home during the trip and it has been a great tent; it got us through rain, heat, mozzies & flies, and a LOT of windgusts and it managed to stay up. We will treasure it always and look back on the tent as an amazing feature of our lap around ozzie.
Today, a report on my day of picking and packing and sorting oranges in Leeton. Many oranges have been denied access to the first grade orange boxes, despite their flashy shiny coating they received. Orange families are furious by their blunt refusal, where the unlucky citrus’s were thrown into a large bin, designated for either becoming juice or something more ominous. The perpetrator confesses to feel rather guilty sending so many orange coloured balls into their conviction, though states that “she tried to do only what was asked of her”. She apologises for the heartache she has caused.
Tomorrow, a light shower in the morning, temperatures in the low 10’s and a chance of a dance with oranges.