So after spending almost a year in NZ we eventually hopped the pond to Australia. Taken from my blog 'Yorkshire and Beyond', here's how the first 6 months went...
You know the feeling – you’ve been sat in all evening contemplating a takeaway. There’s plenty of food in the house, but something’s clicked in your mind and you won’t settle for anything less than greasy, filthy, life-shortening ‘food’, served up in a polystyrene box. You cave in to temptation and imagination, everything starts well but you remain seated a few hours later filled with guilt and self-loathing. Fortunately, my arrival into Australia was nothing like this. It was great.
We turned up with about $2,500 (about £1,300) between us. In Sydney. A less than preferable start to proceedings, but we were optimistic. A hotel room and a taxi to the hotel room later (usually, a dorm room in a hostel would have sufficed but availability was still feeling the brunt of New Years’ fever) and that’s about a tenth of our money gone. Within an hour. At this rate of spending we’d have been gone quick enough to not have to worry about another night’s accommodation, at least.
Obtaining a car was our sole aim, and that we did on our second day. A few calls here and there and we had ourselves a $1,300 (about 700 quid) Holden Commodore. ‘Executive’ model, I should add. It looked ****, but it was cheap and had a bed (camping mattress) and camping equipment (some dodgy cutlery in a box). That was it, just a bit of lying about where we lived and we were set!
The following week or so, before we really decided to make a plan, was probably the most surreal week of my life so far. Driving up the East Coast of Australia, sleeping wherever the hell we wanted to, and generally having the most care-free of times (in between remembering we’re skint). The car was going as well as we could have expected given it was cheaper than some phones, but we needed money. 2 people can only live on cereal bars for so long. We were in Brisbane by this point, and without money or working air con, we needed work for the sake of our health if nothing else.
The first job we were offered turned out to be anything but a job, it was some bollocks ‘scheme’ or whatever, and it’s one I advise you to remember should you ever get out there yourself. We agreed to join a company who offered work towards your 2nd year visa, costing us a mere $100 each (the company was legit), was given the location of a tomato farm and subsequently set off on a 14-hour drive up to Bundaberg. About half an hour away, we rang to confirm the address to be told we have another $800 or so to pay before we can start work, this would cover accommodation expenses/travel expenses/a ‘job bond’. A what!? Any particular reasons why this wasn’t mentioned before we essentially drove the equivalent of England to Liechtenstein. **** creek, no paddle.
My 21st birthday was a few days later, spent sat in a car park with Lauren and a few warm beers. She’d done her best to lift spirits by putting a candle in a muffin. Times were hard.
This whole series of events would turn out to be what I regard as the most educating experience I had while away. We quickly learnt that the more you dwell and feel sorry for yourself, the worse things get. The arguments get more intense and the hatred for everything you own becomes slightly worrying (slow phones, a shaking car and a 10L water drum with the shittest lid ever made). We had only one option, and that was to get off our arses and find a job.
We drove back down to Brisbane with an exhaust pipe tied on with the drawstring from my shorts, we’d been in better situations but at this stage we didn’t care. We soon found ourselves with a stop-gap of a job, Lauren nannying 5 children and me being employed essentially as a handyman/bitch for a family with quite a lot more money than us. A couple of weeks in and we were overjoyed, we were watered, fed, had somewhere to settle for a while and most importantly had money hitting the bank. The house was on the outskirts of Toowoomba, the biggest inland city Australia has to offer (it’s still rubbish), and was situated overlooking a huge valley. Outdoor pool, the lot…
What we didn’t know, was that the mother of the satanic little bastards Lauren had to somehow try and tame throughout the day, was a passive-aggressive lunatic who sacked us after a month, with 2 hours notice, because we watched TV a lot while the kids were at school. Yes. That happened.
Work came thick and fast after this, after leaving her house we both had jobs in Brisbane within the week, and spent about 6 weeks living the city life. We lived just above South Bank, and it was breathtaking. I worked on boats once more (bigger, more expensive, more ****) and Lauren in a café. It was great. We didn’t spend a great deal of time in Sydney but I think I’d prefer Brisbane regardless. It was smaller, quieter and had a beach right smack in the middle of it. What more could you want? Oh, and they had a half-decent football team and a pub that sold proper beer and showed Leeds games. Oh aye.
Times were great, and even when we inevitably left our jobs and hit the road again, we did so knowing money was there. We could afford the finer things in life, like a sandwich (possibly), or clothes that fit. I felt like a real backpacker, driving around not giving a **** about ‘no camping’ signs or whether we had enough petrol to get to a town that I couldn’t pronounce the name of. We drove around for a while, meeting people, drinking with people and then meeting more people. It actually becomes difficult to live in a way where you see it as perfect, I’d find myself over-excitable at the smallest of events and struggled to keep a level head in Hungry Jack’s when I saw a Frozen Coke was a mere dollar.
It wasn’t always easy, however, and it wasn’t always roses. I did miss parts of home after a year away. Apart from the obvious pairing of family and football, I missed being able to get a bath, being able to put beer in a fridge and I missed owning socks. The adage of not knowing what you have until it’s gone can certainly be classed as applicable when it comes to not being able to lay down in bed without thoughts of Wolf Creek or even worse, a council fine.
Our next discovery was Airlie Beach… Where do I start? This place was our final stop on our post-work tour (we had a few other jobs here and there to top ourselves up, but work had become something we could somehow afford to turn down) and would be my favourite by a considerable distance. It was everything I imagined when I thought of Australia, everything we were yet to see, and everything I had started to the existence of. Known as the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef, it was picture perfect. Beaches, palm trees, islands all complimented by water which I can only describe as looking a bit like Listerine (the blue one, obviously). The weather was incredible, we’d already met some great people, and we weren’t leaving without a fight.
We arrived well and truly out of season, and despite the whole town still offering a lively backpacker vibe, with bars full every night, there weren’t much work available on the mainland. We whittled ourselves down to pennies once more through the costs of survival, beer and a spot of sea fishing (I won). Never more desperate for a bit of luck, it arrived in the form of a job offer on one of the nearby islands. We’d gotten good at last ditching it. The job was the same for us both, housekeeping for One&Only, a company regarded as providing the most prestige hotel resorts and locations in the world. This wasn’t right, I barely made my own bed, let alone someone else’s!
I won’t go into depths about the job or the location, I’ll let the pictures do that. However, I certainly don’t think island work, “works”, at least not for me. Island fever is something I thought existed in films, but no, it makes people go a little bit mental. There were a few people we worked with who’d had screws loosened whilst there, several potential fights, a few stolen golf carts and the odd knife threat. We’d met a few cracking people, and work was a breeze, but being told how to brush my hair and tie my shoelaces was enough to sway the both of us and 4 others to perform an impromptu disappearing act about a month into the job.
Homesickness had start to creep in, and doubts were there as to whether we wanted to continue searching for work. Our car was quickly running out of registration and we’d have had to start again, not something we could afford without a decent stint of work. We couldn’t really be arsed, and after a day of strawberry picking, we all but confirmed we couldn’t be arsed to go through it all again so soon. We had a chat and realised we both had similar feelings, and within 12 hours of doing so, we were on a plane home. Spontaneity seemed to be the one thing we kept consistent. A couple of short stays in Kuala Lumpur and Sri Lanka to mix things up en route and then Heathrow. Where had the last 16 months gone?
I didn’t really know whether this was ‘the end’, I didn’t know how I was gonna feel when I got home. I half thought this was the time to get back and get into a job, saving traveling for the odd week off work. Part of me wanted to think that it was “out of my system”, but no. Far from the case. I loved seeing family, I loved being back on home turf, but within a day or two I had itchy feet. I'm now back in Australia and have been living on an Outback cattle farm for the last 6 weeks. No regret in sight!
One thing I have left out of this is a massive thank you to the people we met who helped us out along the way. It’s cliché but we really couldn’t have managed it without them. I hope a few will be reading this, I’m sure you’ll know who you are – cheers, we owe you! From the strangers giving us lifts to those pretty much making us family expecting nothing in return. People are awesome!
Feedback, advice and discussion are fully welcome!