Australia is, for me, a land of paradoxes. It’s as far away from America as I can get, and yet the most familiar place I’ve been so far. It’s full of people who don’t blink an eye at signs warning crocodiles will eat you alive on this beach but also abbreviate everything in the cutest way possible (I mean, truckies?). Australians have great shops full of wildly expensive but beautiful flowy hippie dresses but are very attached to cargo shorts.
It’s giving me both reverse culture shock after solo traveling in Southeast Asia and an occasional bout of homesickness.
For a former British colony that’s still a Commonwealth (the Queen is on all their money), what Australia reminds me most of is America.
Car is king here. Yesterday I got lost in a car park because the only entrance to the grocery store is in there because of course you drive to get groceries. Today I got lost in what I thought was a car park but it turned out to just be most of the downtown area. The reviews for things always include a comment about parking availability. Just in like America, the car is in charge and the local waistlines reflect it.
Everyone is casually friendly here. This is something I have missed about America – the comfort of a quick chat to the Uber driver or fellow grocery shopper or passerby at a crosswalk. Not that people in the rest of the world aren’t friendly (Thailand isn’t called the Land of Smiles for nothing) but the gentle and superficial banter of two strangers is pretty rare. And as a smiley, chatty American, I love it.
Food comes in portions big enough to feed my whole hostel dorm room and covered in cheese, especially in Queensland. This part of Australia was described by my Irish-born Airbnb host as “The Texas of Australia”. I ordered the Paris Eggs at a cafe here for breakfast and expected something light and lovely. What I got was a bowl of veggies soaked in butter, covered in a thick layer of cheese, accompanied by butter-soaked toast and potatoes. Texas vibes indeed.
Did I mention the cargo shorts?
Close and yet so far
But it’s not home. They drive on the opposite side of the road and eat crumpets and drink flat whites and do Tim Tam slams (fucking delicious, by the way). They use the Celsius temperature system, much to my math-deficient dismay. There’s a whole different vocabulary full of bogans and roos and jaffles. And I’m reminded that I’ve never been farther from home.
The combination of far-ness and familiarity is throwing me for a little loop. And so much here feels a little dull after the vibrancy and chaos of Southeast Asia. Basics brunching, avocado toast and lattes everywhere, frumpy suburban dads in baggy tee shirts, dull skyscrapers lining the city streets. All those vast depressing parking lots.
Antipodean attitude adjustment
So I’m both a little bored and a little homesick. And I wasn’t expecting any of this. It’s a whole continent on the other side of the world! The birds can violently disembowel me! The toilets flush backwards! (I assume, anyways, having lived an exciting enough life that I have no idea which way toilets usually flush.)
This might have seemed like a crisis to me a few months ago. But by now, I am accepting of the flashes of homesickness that sweep over me at the oddest times. It’s only natural, after all. Before I left on this trip, I’d never traveled for more than a week at a time. And now I’m off on my own for a whole year. It would be odd if I didn’t feel the odd pang of longing for home.
Books (and libraries like this in Melbourne) always anchor me when I’m drifting.
Also one thing meditation has taught me (hippie time!) is that it’s possible to feel an emotion without reacting to it. I can notice the longing that washes in with the tide as I watch the sun setting over the ocean, just like it does at my grandma’s. I don’t need to make it go away, and I don’t need to wallow in it. Emotions are always coming and going, like the sun appearing and disappearing over the horizon. I can just watch them and leave them be.
Boredom is usually an indicator I’m being lazy in my planning too. After all, as a solo traveler I’m the boss. A little boredom is wonderful for creativity, but too much is easily fixable. So I don’t love eating giant cheese bombs and wandering car parks? I do love ancient cultures, and Australia has the world’s oldest continuous culture in the aboriginal people who still live here. I’m off to find out so much more and feed my unceasing curiosity about our human past.