• 11 . 02 . 11
  • Reflecting on the six month backpacking adventure that turned into a five year stay, as I prepare to leave Australia for an extended period of time.

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Down, Under, Over And Out

Leaving a country always provokes mixed reactions and Australia is no exception. It’s impossible not to be excited about 7 months of travel that will take in 14 countries and I’m very pleased to be stopping in at home along the way. Still, the lifestyle here is very comfortable and it would be easy to stay longer. I think that’s why I feel compelled to leave. I feel obliged to reject inertia and staying in one place too long feels like it limits growth. I wonder if the urge to move on ever itself departs?

I arrived here with nothing but a backpack, and although I’ve picked up a travel companion, there’s a nice symmetry in that’s how I’ll be leaving. This might give the impression that I’ve left no impression, but I don’t think that’s the case. A pessimist might say five years for no net gain is a wasted half-decade, but they would be incorrect. Things don’t have to be tangible to be valuable. (And I did end up with a lovely set of photographic canvases.)

If there is a lingering feeling of incompleteness, it is probably due to two things. Firstly, leaving without travelling through the Red Centre is an oversight that I should have corrected early on, and not even the fact that many Australians have never been there is adequate consolation. Just too far to be a quick break away, it was always on my list to do next and never seemed to happen.

Secondly, I should have written about my experiences here more. Upon arrival to Australia, I distinctly remember feeling that it was “just like home”, but in retrospect that was probably just a reaction to arriving in a Western culture after the enormous and daily differences of Japan. I very much like to absorb the culture of places that I live, and if I’d only stayed 6 months like I’d originally intended, I might have left thinking that Australia was like England, plus or minus a kangaroo and ozone layer. I’m glad I was able to spend the time to disabuse myself of that notion.

Unlike Japan, I’ve found most of the typical Australian stereotypes surprisingly accurate. Though they don’t throw shrimp on them, Australians really do have an obscene number of BBQs a year. They really do drink a lot of ice-cold beer. The parliament really does sound a lot like The Simpsons characterisation. The birds here really do sound like the ones on Neighbours. People really do say “fair go” and really mean it. They say “no worries” and they live it. They even occasionally say “fair dinkum”.

If the national British qualities are stoicism, grumbling and a slight inclination to see the negative in situations, then the quality that most seems to embody Australia is “mateship”. This concept, not even a word in England, is one that Australians are rightly proud of, and speaks to people just “being a decent bloke” and “helping your mates out”. Whilst it exists in other countries, it is part of the national identity here, esteemed in adverts, referred to by politicians and generally understood and implicitly carried out by the general populace.

You couldn’t ask for a better example than after the recent Brisbane floods. With little fanfare and very little in the way of organisation, people turned out in their thousands to repair complete strangers’ houses, without compensation, in the sweltering heat and for no reason other than that it was the right thing to do. This wasn’t even for neighbours – some people drove hours North to find people they could help. Once formal volunteer lines were set up, they were turning people away after getting more than 30,000 respondents in the first day. Maybe I’m a cynic (well, I am), but I couldn’t see that happening back home.

While the recent spate of natural disasters might appear to put the lie to the “Lucky Country” moniker, there is no doubt that for the vast majority of people life here is, and will continue to remain, great. An abundance of natural resources, a young population, lots of room to grow, friendly people and a geographic isolation that separates it from many of the world’s major conflicts all contribute to a bright future for Australia. I can see why lots of people never leave.

I will though. In 12 hours.