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Travel Summary: Australia

February 28 2012

When I first began planning my trip I didn’t want to go to Australia. I’d been before and didn’t fancy the hyper-expensive backpacking environment after being able to live so frugally in Asia. But then I realised that it would fit in well with Christmas, and with my Granny over from the UK, it would be a nice break from the travelling rollercoaster, and a great opportunity to get to know my Australian relatives.

So I landed in Sydney with the plan to CouchSurf for the week before catching the overnight train to Melbourne just before Christmas. I had successfully lined up couches for the whole week but only one person, a lovely Pakistani guy called Jawad, followed up their offer with directions. It was really interesting to CouchSurf. I’d planned to do so ever since hearing about the scheme in Iceland in 2010 but felt Sydney would be the best place to start. Jawad cooked me a delicious goat curry and showed me around the city; it was a really easy start to life in Australia.

Whilst in Sydney, again I wandered the streets, of course taking in the Harbour Bridge, Opera House and Botanical Gardens, but most enjoyed my 50km cycling training/adventure in search of Archie Jackson’s grave at the Field of Mars Cemetery. It was a bit wet but I was more than happy to get some bike time whilst searching for the grave of a cricketer I’d never heard of. The highlight though, after being lost for most of the afternoon and doubling the odometer, was cycling over the harbour Bridge. I filmed it to promote From Backpack to Bike Rack, but it doesn’t do it justice. It felt unreal to be cycling over one of the iconic global images.

The most important thing I did in Sydney was to reunite the family after 170 years. My great-great-great—grandfather’s brother was convicted of stealing bread from his master in 1830-something and deported to Australia. I met his descendants, my fifth cousins, at their home in the Sydney suburb of Engadine. It was fantastic, we immediately clicked, it was as if we’d known each other forever. They were kind enough to give me a tour of the coast south of Sydney, including the not-so-blowy, blowhole at Kiama. I feel honoured to have met them and it won’t be 170 years before the next time our sides of the family meet.

After an exhausting and expensive week in Sydney, despite three free nights of accommodation and catching up with old housemates and travelling friends, I departed on the overnight XPT service for Melbourne. After the 17+ hour epic train journeys of China I was looking forward to comparing this, relatively short, 11 hour overnighter. I expected to wake to the outer suburbs of Melbourne ahead of my 0730 arrival, instead I woke up to see a road sign out of my window that read “Melbourne 330”. We hadn’t even made it into Victoria! A rail replacement bus service made me smile with thoughts of home, but being greeted at the gate by my Uncle and my little five-year-old cousin made homesickness wash over me like a cold shower, but stories of China and Cambodia eased it by reminding me just how much fun I was having.

The travel chaos of Christmases in the UK was a distant memory as I was treated to a proper Aussie holiday. A fantastic traditional meal led proceedings before a Boxing Day visit to the MCG for the first day of the Australia v India Test Match and then the long drive to the domestic holiday retreats of Venus Bay and Wilson’s Promontory. Add in the end of January trip to the Phillip Island summerhouse and I was really experiencing the life of a domestic tourist. I loved it.

Venus Bay

Men are from Mars, Heaven is Venus Bay.

 

I always want to see the real place that I’m visiting, never just settling on the international highlights such as the Opera House in Sydney, or the World Financial Centre in Shanghai, I want to wander the streets and soak up the atmosphere of the city. Melbourne was the place I did this best. Not only was I walking the streets, I was going to the places the locals go on holiday, I was going to work in my Uncle’s office (just some spreadsheet work, nothing flash), I was living in Melbourne, not travelling.

Aside from the major family time, my other tie to Australia is sport. They live and breathe by what their heroes do on the pitch. I love the availability of high class sport, and took the opportunity to attend the inaugural Big Bash League t20 game between Sydney Sixers and Brisbane Heat at the SCG (noting Chris Lynn, who I’d dropped a catch of in 2008 whilst playing for Tichborne, playing for the Heat), an A-league football match between Melbourne Heart and Perth Glory, and the Australian Open, as well as the Boxing Day Test.

The football was more comparable with Conference-level stuff in England, the star player was ex- Celtic’s Liam ‘the next Roy Keane’ Miller, and the game was full of errors. Nonetheless, it was great to have attended ‘soccer’ in another country, and the stadium, AAMI Park, was great – overlooking the MCG, and so uniquely designed, like a golf ball. The tennis was an intense 13 hour marathon that was preceded by watching Harry Kewell’s Melbourne Victory train. You’d be amazed how far Jim Magilton was up Kewell’s arse, or by how big Serena Williams’ arse is!

Serena

Serena is ab-tastic.

 

But not only did I watch sport, I participated too. I made a cameo appearance for my Uncle’s 5-a-side football team, replicating what my father had done when we visited ten years previously. I was later an unused substitute (due to ineligibility) in the grand final as my Uncle’s side won the pennant. And it was one of my Uncle’s injured teammates that arguably had the biggest impact on my time in Melbourne, and the rest of my trip, as he lent me his bike to start training for From Backpack to Bike Rack. I clocked up 200km in the fortnight I had Eug’s bike for and got a real feel for the challenge that awaits me. It was also a great way to see the city and its suburbs – a different sort of sightseeing. I now can’t wait to get to LA and start peddling!

Overall, Travel Summary is probably the wrong title for this post as I didn’t really travel. I am pretty sure, however, that if any job opportunities came up in Melbourne, or even Sydney, I would jump at the chance to base myself over here for at least a year or two. Now it’s time to restart travelling with a hitchhiking tour of New Zealand.

 

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