Current Day – November 6th 2019, thirteen years later.
We’re coming up to the half way point of our year out backpacking our way around Australia in 2006, and as I think ahead to what follows in 2007 and all the years after this I wonder if I would do anything differently knowing what I know now. We all wonder this occasionally don’t we? The simple answer is nothing. Sure I’ve said and done things along the way that with knowledge and experience I’d perhaps do differently now, but isn’t that the point of life, we can think about these periods in time as mistakes or regrets, or we can think of these moments as being life lessons that we have learned from and keep moving forward, the key being to not look back because we’re not going that way. If you’ve been following my journey so far you’ll know that I usually start with the next installment of my unedited journal from our backpacking days in 2006, but this time I thought I’d try with my thoughts first, and how by writing this blog I have noticed connections and likenesses to my mum who died in 2008 that has shaped me into parts of the person I am today. Last month would have been my mum's 64th birthday, that’s eleven birthdays not forgotten but instead remembered not in person but with a scone in honour of her love of the ‘Cream Tea.’ Everyday there are reminders of my mum, be it the philosophical red robin that lands at our feet or the unmistakable laugh that Isabel projects as her feet are being tickled, the same laugh as my mum's, all of which allow the flash of a memory to resurface in current time, to pause it, and for that half a second to warm my heart knowing she is always with us in her own way.
When I think of my mum I’m reminded of how differently she viewed herself compared to the person I saw her as. Growing up my Mum would share her life stories, the things she did and ambitions she had that were relevant to where we were at that period of time. My mum loved animals and her dream job would have been (or at least that’s how I remember it) working with them. My mum was very open about not enjoying school. She was bullied for coming from a low income family, but not just bullied by other children, also from her teachers too who saw a weakness in her learning and exploited this making her school life something she’d come to regard as a means to an end, and as soon as she could she left school to find work. Growing up both of my parents fought hard for me and my sister to have a good education, to have experiences outside of school that assisted our learning and constantly checked in that we were happy in our school environments. I always loved school, while I wasn’t always in the top set, neither was I bottom, learning didn’t come easily to me, but I persevered and willingly gave my all. I had a good set of friends and I joined in with extra-curricular activities, especially if it involved drama. My mum constantly told me I could be anything I wanted to be, so for a long time I dreamed of life as an actress, or singing on a Cruise ship while I sailed around the world. When I saw a job come up as an assistant at Jerry Greens (our local dog rescue center) I rushed home to tell my mum to apply for it. What came next was the biggest surprise in my teenage years; stood in front of me was my mum telling me that she couldn’t apply because didn’t feel confident enough;
this being the same mum who had spent years teaching me how to be confident in my own skin, how to believe in myself, and to try even if I don’t succeed. There was something about her face that I remember that day; a sadness that she’d spent years masking over ensuring that me and my sister wouldn’t ever have the regrets she’d had over the years by not applying for jobs that would have challenged her. All it took was one phone call to enquire about the job but my mum’s insecurities in herself held her back from making it. We rowed about this. I was cross, after everything she had said to me why couldn’t she believe in herself like I did in her? My mum did make the phone call, but she made it two days later after the application deadline. As I sit here typing today, having been almost two years a stay at home mum I recognise how my own confidence had taken a hit, how I’d been avoiding applying for jobs within my skill set and for the first time can imagine just how hard that phone call was for my mum to make. I put some time aside to look over my CV to refresh myself, I genuinely didn’t recognise the woman whose CV I was reading, and whose career had been varied and was full of examples showing a range of skills that would be transferable to many roles. This was me. I should have been more understanding of my mum’s hesitations but I didn’t see them for what they were back then because she’d done such an amazing job keeping her focus on ensuring me and my sister had self-belief. Last week I had an interview for a job that a couple of months earlier I would have dismissed. Before I left Isabel handed me a homemade good luck card. Among other things it said; ‘even if you don’t get it we are proud of you for trying and will take you out for coffee.’ Her letter was unprompted, unexpected, but none the less a reminder of how you can take one experience and learn from it. I didn’t get the job, I did however get the best feedback I could have wanted and will use this for future applications. I was proud that I’d given it a go, but prouder knowing that I have shown firsthand to my children that trying is better than not, something I know now was instilled in me by my mum's courage and honesty.
Why did I start with that story? I guess because when I read the journal you’ll catch up on below I struggled to see how it had any connection to today. I was wrong. Backpacking Australia on a budget meant Nathan and I had to find work in order for our travels to continue. We both accepted jobs we disliked, often with only one of us working at a time, and even when we were doing jobs we liked they were often long and unsocial hours. However, working this way allowed us to learn how to support each other, it wasn’t about one of us being ‘the bread winner,’ it was about getting the money that we needed to travel and create memories on our journey together. When we made the decision for me not to return to work after having Zack I agonised over this, it wasn’t my first choice and had involved a lengthy Union battle that I had fought my corner in and won. I didn’t want to loose my identity and I didn’t want Nathan to feel any additional pressures financially supporting our family to impact on our relationship. Hand on heart we made the right decision, I couldn’t have worked somewhere I didn’t feel supported, and for all the minor niggles that I think any stay at home parent has, for us, being in a solid relationship means we continue to make adjustments in life as and when they are needed in order for us all to feel united, just like we had pre-kids back in 2006. Back then the perfume job on a market stand in Surfers Paradise was my first stint at selling to the public, I enjoyed this so much that I went on in search of similar sales roles, and of course landed a job ‘*spruiking’ in a Melbourne souvenir shop, all of which later leads me to a job in Sydney; this is networking at its best right! Zack is growing up, we are both nearing the next chapters in our lives, and while there is no immediate rush for me to return to work the idea that I will, and can, backed by support from friends and family armed with knowledge and words of encouragement is all the self-belief I need, and in thinking this I hope that in some way, despite the cross words we had, that these words had been enough for my mum when she plucked up the courage to make the call to Jerry Greens to believe in herself too.
*I thought about giving an example of spruiking here but you’ll have to read on below where I give a detailed explanation in my journal. Needless to say, for anyone who knows me personally you’ll soon be able to picture that this was a perfect job role for me, or equally you can soon picture someone you know in this role, perhaps yourself? I’ve recently joined a community group who organise ‘pay as you feel’ events for families to work creatively with hands on STEM learning activities (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics). Part of my volunteer role is to be front of house welcoming families, and with over 280 visitors at our last event I soon started to sound like I was back in the now derelict Melbourne souvenir shop. (Yes, of course I went back to visit on our return trip.) Bear with me here, the connection is coming. I’d never considered that the job spruiking in 2006 would lead to anything other than a daily loss of voice, but not only did it teach me the value of networking, it taught me the customer service skills needed to engage with a variety of people and make each individual feel welcome. From Robert the homeless man who sat outside the souvenir shop berating me daily until I cracked his outer shell and became his friend, to the array of nationalities looking for items to buy to share with their loved ones back home, to current day, the families who are happy to pay the suggested donation at our STEM event, to those less fortunate who deserve the same opportunities to learn and to be inspired. Spruiking taught me the value of eye contact, of a smile, and how in our lifetime we all deserve respect.
Places like Surfers Paradise were one of the many that we revisited earlier this year, and with striking changes like the addition of a tram network having taken place, the rest was comparably much the same. Perched on the edge of a beautiful stretch of beach were the many bars, restaurants and fashion outlets. We were surrounded by groups of people in their twenties having a crazy amount of what looked like carefree fun; I should imagine this is how we felt backpacking and why we named it our favourite place back then. As we drove out looking at the sea of young bodies mooching along the shoreline markets my memories drifted to thoughts of how we were once one of them. In our bathroom we have a small handmade shell picture with the wording; Work like you don’t need the money, love like you’ve never been hurt and dance like no one is watching. We bought it at one of the night markets because it had felt relevant to our travels, relevant to the past relationships Nathan and I had both had which had led us to being together, and relevant to my mum. I can’t calculate how many times I’ve read these words since this purchase, at least twice a day when I brush my teeth, and more. The words have become embedded in our life. We work because we know adventures will follow, we forgive more easily because our love has overcome so much in the years, and we always dance like no one is watching, or at least I do, because that’s just how my mum danced.
I’m not sure if I’ve noticed many other references to us having children in previous journals but they stuck out in the one below. As a backpacker in our mid-twenties having children wasn’t something we discussed, we may have made the odd reference, and if we did it would have been in jest. We of course discussed our thoughts on children before we got married, we agreed if we ever decided to have any that we would like two, but as for when, even in 2009 when we did marry, this was an ‘in the future’ discussion. I was quite shocked when I found myself wanting children a year later, and remember thinking if we were ready, and if not now, then when? I was surprised to read in the journal below that I’d made a reference to having had children when our car broke down stating that it would be a great story for the grandkids – I even skipped a generation! What further springs to mind are the conversations I had with Bronwyn who owned the perfume stand I was working on in Surfers about her children. Every Friday night Bronwyn and her husband would take it in turn with their kids to pick a cuisine from a jar and eat out at that particular style of restaurant. The results being that their children from a young age were eating Japanese, Cantonese, Italian, in fact you name it and they ate it. It turns out I had filed this information somewhere in my brain under the ‘when I have kids’ section and can honestly say for a period of time we used to do this with Isabel in the hopes her food palette would become worldly, and in a bid to encourage a healthy lifestyle with food. When my Dad arrives back from his travels I like to ask for a detailed report on his take of the local cuisine because one day I plan to replicate his well-travelled footsteps. I can’t imagine my mum sampling the different tastes that my Dad and I love to do, but I can picture her by our sides wearing her travel pouch complete with a nutri-grain bar to hand, just in case!
I’ll never forget Isabel’s first experience of Sushi; she might have eaten it had the Chinese woman who was wearing a full face of white pale make-up serving it to us, not appeared to Isabel as the most frightening person ever – thankfully I had a backup brunch bar at the bottom of my bag for those – just in-case - moments. So, for a short lived period of time we enjoyed our weekly restaurant nights and plan to resurrect this idea should we ever find ourselves in a position that Zack will sit still long enough for us to make use of a table. All of this had me thinking about the journal entry you are about to read. I wondered which people are still in my life and how they link to locations that mean so much to us despite the changes that may have happened over the years.
Byron Bay – with such a huge change in infrastructure it was incredible to discover that the atmosphere of this relaxed town is very much the same; from the moment you arrive time magically slows down, you feel high on life without any need for recreational drugs. I’m reminded once again of my friend Rebecca, her two boys are now fully grown men and she is happily travelling Europe in her spare time with her husband and friends. Rebecca isn’t someone I see in person regularly despite living in the same city, our paths struggle to align. We met at college as young adults studying a Media course both looking for a way to better our careers. Neither of us forged big careers in media, nor did we become the professional tennis players we joked of becoming in our extra-curricular time, but what we did create was a lasting friendship based on acceptance and encouragement of each other’s lives – nothing more. Rebecca is someone who would never consider herself an inspiration, but she is. As I spend my days with Nathan raising our two small humans I often think of Rebecca who is my living proof that our children will grow and leave home, that the days leading up to this will come with challenges and trials, but also that this is a period in time that I am privileged to have the opportunity to be a part of, and by doing so the rewards of travel are only a moment in time away. Should Rebecca ever travel to Australia I can picture her at Byron Bay, dancing like no one is watching in the middle of the drum circle as the wave’s crash against the rocks just as I did with Isabel and Zack in February, and with my mum many years before. I am greatful that my mum had the opportunity to meet and spend time with Rebecca before she died, my mum saw in Rebecca her zest for life that spurs not just me, but everyone she meets to be no-one other than ourselves, because when we accept ourselves for who we are we learn to surround ourselves with like-minded happy people who will endeavor to help us find the positives in life as we live it.
The Big Banana – one of many large items we stopped to photograph with the kids in February on our road trip from Queensland to Sydney, seemingly proof that these items are one of Australia’s greatest marketing ideas ever as we found ourselves waiting in-line behind the backpackers of 2019 capturing their first shot that we were now replicating from 2006 ‘selfie’ style. The same Toboggan ride on site is still going strong despite now being surrounded with an array of new activities enticing people to make this tourist attraction into a weekend stay. Thinking of ‘The Big Knight’ that had been twinned with the Macadamia nut still makes me giggle when I think of all the relevant puns – you’re thinking of some now right? The Macadamia as it stands is still my favourite nut, I was delighted at discovering Hotel Chocolate do a mini version of chocolates with a macadamia nut hidden in the middle. My dad and I took great pleasure in sharing these 80/20 on a recent cinema trip, another reminder of how many traits I have similar to my mum who equally wasn’t a fan of sharing chocolate either. When I think of the drive to Cornwall here in the UK with a current driving time at 6 hours plus I’m now imagining my very own ‘Apprentice’ style application for the marketing of ‘large item’ tourist attractions on the main motorway routes to replace the standard overpriced service stations. ‘The Big Seagull’ is surely worth a visit on route to some of the UK’s most iconic beaches right? Then again with two kids in the car, an express Costa versus a selfie with a Seagull and I’m fairly confident I’d choose the coffee. However, if anyone does think they can market Australia’s gimmicks here in the UK let it be known that I once thought this to be a profitable business.
St Kilda – first visited in 2006 vs February 2019. Below you’ll learn of the ‘luxury apartment’ as it was advertised as in the local paper advert that we stayed in for 8 weeks in 2006. This turned out to be anything but luxurious, therefore upon booking The Prince Hotel for two nights in February this year for the wedding of the now wed Mr. & Mrs. Strahan we were pleased to discover numerous TripAdviser reviews confirming that the luxury advertised was indeed as described, and notably was a sign of the times with the increase of the amount of information readily available to us on the internet with the swipe of a screen; we no longer no need to rely on carrying a Lonely Planet Guidebook in our day bags. Had photos of the apartment we’d stayed in been available in 2006 before we viewed we almost certainly would have dismissed it – what a shame this would have been, we met lifelong friends here and have the fondest of memories. I wonder how much we pass up on based on other peoples reviews vs our own instincts and opinions? Walking around St Kilda there was noticeably many new eateries all competing to fit in with the new trends of vegan based foods and drinks but even with these St Kilda remains very much the weekend escape with its beach front and ever iconic face of Luna Park. Walking around with the wedding photographers as part of Lisa and Piddys bridal party after the ceremony was one of my most memorable moments of this year’s visit. As I looked on at Lisa and Piddy enjoying their day and at the beautiful landscape surrounding us, I breathed in the sea air and I thought of John. We met Irish John and Welsh Josh whilst living in St Kilda. English, Irish and Welsh living in one apartment meant some serious translating of accents and many an evening of banter. My love of the post it note became the first of many ribbings from these boys; it turns out only my husband will put up with my tidy household hints on a post it, for everyone else they were screwed up and used as practice for Rugby in the hallway with our bed occasionally being used for the drop kick point when Welsh Wyn stayed over. The one time I dared to suggest that this not happen so early in the morning I found myself flat against the wall still in my now upturned bed nursing a bruised head, and on another occasion suggesting that their sweaty socks after a day on a building site be left in the hallway they were consequently stuffed in my mouth – I still gag now thinking about it. Then again when I think of the receptionist at the 5 star Caravan Park we check into below having driven solidly for a couple of days without showers perhaps it was karma; she actually stepped back as we handed over payment for our stay due to our smell! Don’t for a second think I was living in hell, these were the best 8 weeks of house sharing I have ever done. We are still in touch with two of these amazing boys now who are settled down with their own children. What’s sad is that John is no longer with us, not long after we returned I had a phone call to tell me that John had taken his own life. I didn’t get the opportunity to visit John in Ireland or meet his family, I only know of John of the 8 weeks we spent together, and of his plans to head home shortly after for Christmas. John was the life and soul of our house share; he had a heart of gold. He may have stuffed those socks in my mouth but he made up for it with a bear hug and a good cuppa to follow once I had brushed my teeth. My Dad has always been a fan of Rugby League and as a result I have frequented a few games with him and enjoyed them. John loved the sport, and insisted we had tickets for the Tri-Nations Australia vs New Zealand game. Up until this point John had assumed I had no interest in Rugby having been forced to watch Australia Pop Idol with me. I’ll never forget his face when I revealed my inner knowledge of the game, we were friends before, but this sealed the deal. In the journal below my intentions are to continue to follow the game regularly, this hasn’t happened, I love to see firsthand the enthusiasm people have for a sport, I thrive from it, but for me, these days I’m happiest wearing my Rabbitoh Rugby League hoody bought for me by my Dad one Christmas. I do wonder whether my days following Rugby are about to be resurrected as Zack is showing signs of interest; great ball skills but even better tackling which would be well suited to the middle of a scrum, and should this day arise I know I’ll think of John. I could never have known that one day John would feel so low he’d take his own life and I will never know why. What I do know is that the John I knew had the most infectious laugh, one that when you heard it, it was impossible for the sides of your mouth not to curl upwards into a smirk followed by a laugh that joined in with his. I remember John as a gentle giant, my friend, someone I am greatful to have been lucky enough to have spent such a short period of time with. When I think of my mum who was taken too soon, I don’t think of John any differently, I believe like my mum that if John could have, he would have been here today, and that both were loved up until the day they left us.
Dear Mum; Thank you for instilling in me the morals to work hard in life be that in a paid job or as a stay at home mum along with the foresight to not be taken for granted along the way. You showed me through your own determination that life can be tough but if we make adjustments during these periods we can find a way to stay afloat. You’ll also be pleased to know I thought of you this week at Isabel’s first concert at Sheffield Arena. Little Mix were no comparison to Will Young & Meatloaf when we were last here together, but she sang and danced in the aisles like no one was watching, just like we did all those years ago.
Dear Isabel and Zack; I once accidentally (I’m saying accidentally because your Grandad will read this, your Nana already knew) ate a cookie that was made with ‘weed’ as its primary ingredient. I laughed uncontrollably for three hours about the fact that ‘the cookie’ was making me laugh and then slept until very late the next day which was a very surreal feeling upon waking. I do not condone the consumption or taking of any drugs, and have never done this since, but if you ever find yourself considering this as an option please know that you can talk to me and I will do my best to advise based on my own experience. Also as a final edit, you are both surrounded by many people who love you, none more than me and your Dad, you can always talk to us about any worries or concerns you may have, and I hope that in turn as you grow you will learn the art of being a great listener in order to help others.
Sunrise on the Newell (September to December 2006)
So onward we go to the Gold Coast, and in particular the well-known area of Surfers Paradise which is by far mine and Nathan's favourite place. The atmosphere was fantastic, the weather hot, the beaches lush and all in all a good time. The waves here were fantastic, although as a pointer to any girls visiting Australia it really would be a good idea to buy a decent bikini if you are planning on playing in the waves. Let’s just say if it wasn't for Nathan being a good swimmer there could have been a rather embarrassing moment exiting the sea for me! So as good as it was you might well have guessed by now that nothing ever goes exactly to plan when travelling, I’ll come back to this later. I managed to secure a job selling perfumes on a market stand (it was like being back in the good old days when I remember when you fainted at Cleethorpes market Rachel, and you mum, when you saw me drinking Red Bull at 6am and was ready to sign me up for AA meetings as you thought it was alcohol!), as you can imagine I really was back in my element. Nathan during this time had been secured work on the Indy, however the start date seemed to never be nearing, and with no other work available at this time of year we decided it was time to move on. A real shame as I loved my work, Nathan loved lazing on the beach too – but we need cash to fund the rest of our travels.
We were however actually happy to be leaving the caravan park which had too many unruly kids for my liking, and thieves in the camp kitchen which was annoying when you wake in the morning for a few rounds of toast to find the bread is missing. Another first happened in Surfers; my first sighting of a real snake, can you imagine my horror while talking to Rachel on the phone looking out at the sea, happy as larry, and then a snake crawls out from the grass and slithers across to the other side right in front of me! I acted calm, well if you call screaming; 'oh my god oh my god I gotta get a photo of this' as I dropped the phone calm, then yes I was calm!
On the 4th October we moved on, excited for the road trip ahead of us, our final destination being Melbourne. We drove out via all the coastal beaches. Coolangatta in particular reminded me a lot of the beaches in Cornwall, a good reminder that when we are skint on our arrival back to the UK we won’t have to go far to remind ourselves of great Australian beaches. We were passing Tweed Heads and almost missed it - the sign to say we were now entering ‘New South Wales.’ Wow. We've been in Queensland for over 3 months, seen some fantastic places and realise just how much more there is left that we haven't had the time to see; what an achievement though. We'd hoped to spot have a rest point for photos but it appears maybe only us backpackers have desires to take photos of road signs, this one at least, we'll lay in wait for the next sign as we leave Victoria later on. Initially we were trying, perhaps a little too hard, was to find a difference between the two states. The first thing we did notice though was a difference in scenery, NSW was very green, lots of fields and flat houses, a lot like the UK in one respect, still that didn't bother us as the weather was telling us we were definitely a few thousand miles away.
Our destination for today was not that far away, Byron Bay, at the very top end of NSW. Everyone we had spoken to has told us how beautiful this place is so we decided to check it out for ourselves. Upon arrival we hit another first on our travels; we completed all 794 songs on the iPod in one journey; quite the achievement as we’ve had a few failed attempts. As we arrived into Byron bay the first thing we noticed was a hippy chick with pink hair riding an old fashioned bicycle with flowers in the basket in the front (I did look back to check it wasn't you Rebecca!), so it’s ringing true what they say; Byron Bay is still very much like living in the 70's-laid back, hippy, happy, and of course lots of 'weed' on offer! Don't panic-we didn’t.
Now that our ever faithful QLD camp directory was invalid we had to refer back to the lonely planet bible (for place descriptions) in order to find a place to stay. This is all good and well if you are happy to stay in overpriced hostels that are nice but overcrowded, or cheaper ones that usually include flee ridden beds! Traveling as a couple we’ve learn proves not to be so cheap or easy in these places hence why camping has been the better option; the car genuinely is really quite comfy these days. The Arts Factory as advertised was nothing like its image, in fact it looked like half the staff were 'high' and the place had a rather unusual feel about it; this was later confirmed. So after a short ride around we found a really nice, spacious, well looked after (in fact the best we've stayed at yet) camp site. After setting up camp which we have finally mastered in less than half an hour, we were set for the rest of the day at the beach. We weren't disappointed, the waves were incredible, and what made them feel so unique was the fact that dolphins were in full sight playing in the surf close to the beach with the swimmers; an amazing sight I’m sure you'll agree. At one point we were swimming so far out I nearly had my head decapitated by a surfer; luckily for me he was trained enough to surf around my head while I just looked on in complete horror. Back at camp and we’ve decided we’ll head up to Cape Byron, the most easterly point in NSW (I think possibly Australia but I will have to get this confirmed), and here comes the downside of travelling when things don’t go to plan, as mentioned at the start of this journal; the car wouldn't start! Now if you can imagine two fully grown adults here, one about to cry, and one about to batter what living life was left in the car out of it, it wasn't the best of scenes. The NRMA guy who just happened to be on site with some unfortunate other sole told us the ‘GREAT’ news; 'it’s an electrical fault that he can’t fix.’ Nathan had a very good attempt the next morning but with no luck so we had no other choice than to watch the car (aka ‘our Stanley’) being towed away for the 3rd time. We have come to the conclusion that against all odds we now qualify as 'one of those backpackers', you know the ones that buy a fantastic car and end up paying out double for it, still it’s a story to tell the grandkids. And before anyone gets there hopes up here, that's just phrase, no children in the making on this adventure. After a few beers and BBQ at the local pub we calmed down and made the decision that even after everything we've paid out we are still £500 better off than if we'd laid it out initially for a hire car, so we lay in hope that Stanley gets us to Sydney with no other major problems after which we can sell him to another unsuspecting backpacker (shameful I know). In all honestly, the next person will probably have no problems seen as we have fixed just about everything like new now.
Next day arrives with the hangover from the 3 jugs of Tooheys we'd had assist with our decision making, and now unsure as to how long we'd be staying at Byron Bay (which in all honesty wasn't such a bad thing), we took a walk to the lighthouse at Cape Byron. We didn't exactly make it to the lighthouse as it was a little further than anticipated but we weren’t disappointed, the coastal walk we did had a perfect end (here comes the soppy bit), as we got to see the sunset over the sea which was absolutely beautiful. To top it off we bumped into a photographer who was happy to take our photo capturing the moment, although he did spend quite some time maneuvering us into various positions for poses. After a few clicks of the camera he finally says; perfect, you look like two trees! Not exactly the most flattering of thoughts is it.
News on the car was due the next day; no need to fret, we are fully prepared; we know it will be at least a week and of course with a massive cost to go with it. Nope, it’s ready to collect and only $142. A faulty ignition lead this time, who cares. Stop talking and let’s go and collect it. Nathan told me here it was only a short walk, what he didn't say was this short walk was an hour in 35 degrees heat! This was seriously a moment like when you say dad; ‘it’s just around the next corner.’ Hot and sweaty, and finally arriving back at the caravan park, I wanted nothing but a cold shower, so can you imagine how I reacted, remember here that we've just collected the car, when the campervan in front of us at the boom gate decides to reverse into us! We laughed, of course we laughed, the car is cursed, and we are cursed, so a cracked number plate is nothing hey. The girl in the campervan didn't know how to take us; she was extremely worried when we couldn't stop laughing-if only she knew.
With the next road trip approaching it was time for a last tea (snags of course) and a beer in this beautiful town, but not before we’ve stopped to buy a large roll of gaffa tape as we are now experiencing problems with the Aussie heat rising; it has now melted all the glue off the reflectors (aka curtains for privacy) so Nathan assures me gaffa tape will be the answer. While Nathan was buying this I blagged us 2 body boards (a non-surfer’s alternative to the surf board) in prep for your arrival Andy and Kelly; prepare for some Christmas day fun with these.
Our plan now (have you noticed it changes daily) is to get to Melbourne ASAP, this turned out to be one of our fastest and best loved road trips yet. The plan being to find some work for a couple of months, and then party hard at Christmas with friends, and explore like mad in New Zealand visiting family along the way too. In true Bill Bryson style we've taken up taking photos of rather large objects so it was fitting that we managed to get a large knight advertising some kind of place to do with Macadamia nuts at Ballina, (these nuts are the best mum, they beat salted KP's any day) followed by a large shrimp a little further on. I know you are all going to be so happy to see these photos! We ended up at Ebor falls within the Guy Fawkes River National Park where we had our picnic stop and ventured on a short walk to see the falls (an amazing height and view for miles with some bonus rock climbers to watch too). We stop every couple of hours in order to not get deep vein thrombosis; OK I won’t be so dramatic, obviously I mean to just stretch our legs. The next place was Moonbi lookout, one of Australia’s oldest buildings still standing which just unfortunately only offered a view of the highway ahead of us. Interestingly though, well kind off, was that it highlighted a bloody long stretch of highway, and with this a realisation that Melbourne was quite a far way off yet. We reached the town of Gunnedah where Nathan had two well-deserved schooners; me to drive next. The temperature had been above 30 degrees for most of the day so we were starting to feel a bit salty, I swear you can even see the salt (you know I’m referring to sweat right) on your skin, this even with the air-con on full blast! I drove to Coonabaronbran, the heat was easing up and the night setting in so I had to hit the brakes a few times for wallabies out for early teas on the road; an absolute pain in the arse when you just want to drive but equally fantastic to see them in the wild. At Coonabaronbran we had to make a decision whether to camp for the night or push on, it was only around 4.30pm and although we were aware a spot of night driving would be in order we decided to go for it. Before we left we drove to Warrumbungle NP, it was too late to buy a permit to camp so our decision was made final for us; we'd see the kangaroos, explore the park a little, have some tea and push on. We managed two out of the three with the tea not being quite so successful. We found the outdoor BBQ, lit it, set the pasta going, and then night set in! With only a lantern for light it’s impossible not to attract all the mozzies, moths and various other horrible insects, along with the rather large ants that had taken a liking to the pasta. After witnessing one make it into the pan I fished it out, only to find another dozen! Ant pasta wasn't my preferred menu choice so we gave up and decided to leave feeling rather hungry.
Driving out of the NP was a feeling much the sunset moment in Byron Bay only with a full moon shining over the high mountains, the images you get to see while traveling often take your breath away and this was another moment, or at least it was right up until the moment I had to shout 'KANGAROO' as one jumped straight towards our headlights. We missed it, just. All eyes were now firmly on the road ahead till we left the park and got onto the Newell Highway (Route 39) heading all the way to Melbourne. Tea was finally had at a petrol station with the long haul truck drivers and on we drove listening to the late night radio talk stations with a commentary on bush cooking and highlights of the football at Brisbane stadium. We’d swapped half way again and I woke up in a truckers lay by at 5.30 am to find us not that far from Melbourne at a place called West Wyalon. Nathan was laid out across all our worldly things in the back in a not so comfy position. I have no idea how he managed to stay awake for so long but he insists he had fun and filled me in on the night stories id missed while being in the land of nod, including the hitchhikers we’d passed, trucks that flew past our car at high speeds, in fact I won’t go on. All you need to know is that from the heat the day before and no shower we were both rather smelly. We know this because our pong noticed by the lady serving us bacon sandwiches in the small town café had her looking rather uncomfortable on the other side of the counter, as humorous as this was to us we were definitely now on a mission to reach Melbourne which thankfully was just a few hours away. We only stopped once more for a short time in the town of Shepparton which was rather nice and friendly looking and wouldn't have appreciated a long stay from two smelly pommes!
So a few hours later and we were there, we'd prepared ourselves as much as possible for the arrival of driving in the city but still ended up lost (mainly due to the fact that the Melbourne Marathon was on and certain roads were closed. Not having an E-ticket for the city freeway didn’t help either and meant we had 24 hours to pay up or have a huge fine so it became our mission to find a caravan park as quickly as possible. With only two choices that we knew of we set off in search of the cheapest, some 45 minutes later having driven through some rather Bronx looking towns to reach the cheapest we decided to find the expensive one; Ashley Gardens Caravan Park. Picture this; we are tired, and I’ll stress here again, very SMELLY (it did take us 2 full days and nights to get to Melbourne, are you starting to get to grips with how vast Australia is yet?), so the thought of sleeping in the back off the car and setting up camp was not appealing. Imagine my delight at discovering after enquiring that the price of the cheapest room was $53 a night (not too much of a difference to the $35 for camping) - sold. And oh what a treat this was. This was a 5 star caravan park. We are talking the biggest room, comfiest bed, TV, fridge, dressing table and settee all for us. The bathroom was a short walk away with clean, and heated floors, yes you heard right heated floors. I apologise here on behalf of me and Nathan, we are aware of the water shortage and 10 minute shower rule, but I’m afraid we overstepped the mark, it was at least an hour before we emerged, smelling like roses as the saying goes, and sleeping like kings and queens within 10 minutes of hitting the sack. If the weather had been better (the good weather on NSW has not followed us to Victoria) we'd have made full use of the spa and pool, and definitely the sauna. But as you know by now we had a job to do, well a job to find actually. We ended up staying 3 nights in total at this caravan park, it was pure luxury, but based in Footscray it was quite a ride to the city center so not that practical.
First things first, as always, get to grips with the transport system. Melbourne has a great transport system, trams and busses that run regularly and on time so it didn't take us long to get used to this. You buy a ticket, validate it onboard and ride all day so we thought we'd worked out the best scam ever by not validating our tickets unless we saw any boarding tram inspectors. We were doing well until I got caught! Oops. I attempted my best innocent script suggesting I thought it was like Sheffield where you wait for the tram inspectors to give you a ticket, of course it didn't work, so giving a false address was the only way of getting out of the fine, Don't worry mum, I’m sure I can get to NSW without them tracking me down in 6 weeks. Nathan on the other hand is getting used to driving around the city. We were very greatful that someone had informed us of the right hook turn in Melbourne, now this is scary, if you want to turn right you have to be in the left hand lane with your right indicator on and wait until all the traffic has gone while avoiding any approaching trams. Writing it down actually sounds easier than it is! Trams on the other hand run along with the traffic which is often a tad interesting. I’m thinking the better option would be to join the latest craze which appears to be skateboarding, these people are everywhere and I’m regularly avoiding collisions with them.
I think you’ll have gathered we’ve moved, we decided to stay at a place called St Kilda based on the beach as the city hostels apart from being pricey didn't offer parking for the car. St Kilda itself is full of bars and nightlife galore, the only trouble being that the beer works out on average the same price as buying a pint in Sheffield City centre so we’re not saving as much as would being in the smaller towns. Still that's the same in any city we've been in, you can’t beat the outback redneck bars hey Tony. St Kilda is famous for Luna Park, a mini Alton Towers type theme park with the oldest rollercoaster built still going. I’m afraid to say here that for once me and Nathan felt a bit too old. The rides were more like the fairs that go around in the UK - a little tacky, still it lights up nice at night. We searched all the hostels in St Kilda as we were keen to meet some people this time round, while we love our own company meeting fellow travelers always turns out to be a bonus. The only hostel with a reasonable price and off road parking we could find was only available for a few weeks as it had sold to a French School. This hostel was called Eildon Mansion and like its name suggests, it was a mansion and great fun to stay in for the few weeks we did. We viewed numerous rooms for rent and apartments, and I’ll admit I was getting a little stressed here as most of them were complete s**t holes, I wouldn't have put my worst enemy in them! So with one last attempt we went to view 9/35 Burnett Street, Patrick the landlord sold it to us as luxury accommodation and ocean views. Patrick didn't exactly lie here; rather he extended the truth. You can definitely see the ocean, this being as it’s a top floor flat; it’s definitely there way in the distance – a dot - just. And luxury, well it has definite elements of luxury to any backpacker in the respect that we have our own cooking facilities and a washing machine which is always more than welcome (Nathan is in love with the washing machine!), but the un-matching settees, a large TV with the colour fading rapidly, a cracked glass shower stand, cracks in the wall and finally the bed - not quite the double advertised, more like 2 singles pushed together; not exactly luxury. But we have accepted, believe me this was best of the bunch, and as most of you know, Nathan is rather a clean freak (and me) so with a bit of a spring clean we soon had the flat looking fresh. Along with the flat came two flat mates; Irish John and Welsh Josh, both our ages and sound blokes. English, Irish and Welsh in one house makes for one hell of an interesting accent problem and fulfilled our plan of meeting fellow backpackers. Patrick did however fail to mention to either four of us that Burnett Street is the next Britannia Corner. Britannia Corner is the local pick up for prostitutes, I only discovered this after waiting one evening on the corner for Nathan to catch up and a bloke in a car pulling and asking me – ‘how much?’ Cheeky swine! Thankfully I have found a short cut to the tram bypassing this exit, and at night we all go out together, still it has given us some interesting tales to tell – all much better face to face.
Most of the jobs advertised were commission only, but as always we soon come up trumps. Nathan has registered with quite a few agencies and does various jobs from working on the Marquees for the Melbourne Cup to his not so happy recent job of working in, as Nathan calls it, a ‘Chinese sweat shop’, putting together filing cabinets. He's only got one more day left there and then hopefully it'll be something a little less mind numbing. There's scaffolding work lined up in a few weeks for Nathan so he'll be in his element here. Me if you are wondering, well after aimlessly wandering into one of my favourite crappy gift shops and enquiring if they needed casual staff, it turns out they did. The perfumes that they sold were the same as the ones I’d been selling in the Gold Coast and it turns out that Steve and Poppy who I now work for happen to know Chuck and Bronwyn from Surfers so were happy to give me the job. Its bloody long hours and all day long I’m standing at the front of the shop asking people if they like to come in and look at our products but I swear I’m having the best time. Here's an example of what I say on a repeated basis; 'Sir, take a look at our $10 watches all with a 1 year guarantee, more watches inside, madam if you are looking at the pashminas, more inside $5 normally retail at $20, take a look at our $5 bags absolutely beautiful, more bags inside koalas and kangaroos take 3 for $10.....' and I go on and on like that all day. By the end of the week my voice is nearly gone, which for some reason or another really impresses the boys! I have even been to the studio to record a CD that plays all day long saying the same thing along with Poppy. Apparently the Australians love an English accent, although I have had a few drunks tell me to 'shut up you f**ing pommy!' Still it’s a job, its cash in hand, and it helps save for the next journey ahead of us. We plan to stay another 6 weeks here saving as much as possible towards some Christmas fun and antics.
Do you want to know the best part of this; Steve and Poppy have offered me sponsorship if I want to move to Australia, so along with Tony and Lenore's offer the prospects of work and life out here aren't that far away for us. It’s a completely different lifestyle in Australia altogether; you work to have fun here, and not work to live as it often is in the UK. It’s funny as we suspect that so many Australians don't realise how lucky they actually are. On the other hand we have a new found appreciation for the UK, everything is so close together we really shouldn't moan about traveling and should do it more often. There's so many places within a couple of hours drive or flight at good prices that we shall certainly be exploring a bit closer to home when we return. Don't panic though, for those of you who haven't heard, brace yourselves here, yes we are coming back. We land back in the UK on 16th (it could be 17th will have to check the tickets) of June. Plenty of time for you to barricade your doors, emigrate yourselves, or do whatever it is you need to do in order to avoid seeing us with our beautiful tans.
Of course it’s not all saving we are still experiencing Melbourne and exploring the delights. The Elephant and Wheelbarrow has become our new local; every Monday it hosts a 'Neighbours night' with different actors doing guest appearances from the TV show, I live in hope that one day I will bump into Harold, but until them we have vowed not to pay the $35 to enter. Every other night its hosts all the sporting games and some great bands so when we aren't saving hard, you can find us in here. The weather in Melbourne can be shocking, a few times now we have had to pinch ourselves to check we haven't been sent back to the UK. It is the only place that can have 4 seasons in 1 day. We are talking 30 degrees heat in the morning, to pouring down rain by lunch, back to a rather nice afternoon, then wind to end the day, it’s crazy. Melbourne would seriously be the best if it could just sort its weather problem out. We've been to the Telstra Dome to watch the Rugby league, Australia vs. New Zealand, an awesome stadium and fantastic game. I think we have both become big fans of the game now and will certainly be following it back in the UK, it’s Australia vs. Wales tonight (4th November) which we’ll be watching. Josh and John have joined a Gaelic football team, Nathan has been to see them play and assures me there is no way he will be going on the pitch, and judging by the bruises they arrive back with I rather suspect he's made the right choice. The MCG (Melbourne Cricket Ground) is a great place also, we've investigated and while we'll sadly miss The Ashes game as we'll have moved on we’re hopeful we’ll get see a local test match. In St Kilda we live opposite Albert Park which is the home ground of Shane Warne's cricket ground, many a late evening has been spent watching local teams play, and it also hosts every sporting event here, along with it being the track for the Grand Prix although at the moment the pit stops are being used as basketball courts. This week it’s the Melbourne Cup (horse racing if you aren't sure what this means), we opted out of going to Flemington Racecourse due to the expense of the tickets and rather posh gear that we need to buy that neither of us fancy having to lug around in our backpacks for the rest of our time here. We will however be at Federation Square where the big screens are showing the event with betting and beer tents in place. A small bet may be order, if anyone has any good tips be sure to email before Tuesday. Finally we've seen most of the local interest points, but one our favourite is the Grand Casino, much alike Vegas this is big, glitzy and a sure fire way for us to lose all our money, so for now we’ve restrained and just watched some rather interesting card games.
I’m sure we'll see and do a lot more over the next few weeks packing in as much as we can before we move o so this may mean you'll not get another update until after Christmas. We hope you all have a fantastic Xmas and New Year (I know it’s early but we may not get chance to say it again), we'll be thinking of you and hopefully you'll think of us too. We'll be on Bondi Beach having a BBQ while we are sure you'll be tucked up in your winter woolies with open fires enjoying your Turkey. We hope to see lots of messages on the website, they definitely help us to stay sane, and if you are feeling up to it a hefty email with all your news wouldn't go amiss.
Love always, Lindsay and Nathan
*Photos top of the page; Spruiking in Melbourne, The Tri-Nations RL (me, John & Josh), and us looking ‘like a tree’ at a Byron Bay sunset.
* Photos above; me grabbing ‘The Big Knight’s’ Macadamia Nut! My Melbourne tribe, still in touch with Josh & Wyn; John forever missed.
I am a 'wannabe' Nomad who currently lives in Sheffield with my husband and two children. I genuinely love exploring new places but finding time to fit this in is tricky so more often than not I'm found in the closest independent coffee shop because nothing cheers me up better than a decent coffee.