Many years ago, in 2001, I went to Australia backpacking by myself for 12 months. I had graduated from uni in the summer of 1999, and had absolutely no idea what to do with my life. All I knew was that I wanted to go to Australia – a healthy diet of Australia soaps operas growing up had inspired me to go there. So, I worked in a couple of shops, saved my money and after my visa was sorted I jumped on a plane, and off I went.
And I loved every minute!
I started, like so many other backpackers do, in Sydney. Sydney is one of my favourite cities in the world. It has everything – beautiful beaches, city life, and the Blue Mountains and National Park are within easy reach. I spent many days on the beaches of Sydney over the course of my year there. Some days, my friends and I would get to the bus stop and decide which beach to go to simply by which bus came first – Coogee, Bondi, Bronte, it didn’t matter much when the sun was shining and we were on a 12 month holiday. Other days we would make the decision to go to Manly, probably my favourite beach, and spend the hour ferry ride looking out at the hills across the harbour from the city. Beautiful!
One of my favourite pastimes was sitting on Circular Quay, by the Opera House and the Bridge just people watching and looking at the view of the harbour – it must have been stunning before the city was built and it was all open countryside rolling down to the ocean. I also used to enjoy the Bondi to Coogee walk, along the cliff tops, via a number of other beaches, such as Bronte and Tamarama.
Of course, I didn’t spend all my time in Sydney, although over the course of the year, I probably spent about 4 months there on and off. I also saw big parts of the East coast, from Cairns and Cape Tribulation all the was down to Melbourne. I also went to Darwin, and travelled down to Alice Springs and Uluru. What I didn’t do was see the West coast. I had a return ticket booked from Sydney, and I just didn’t have the money to take there, never mind get back to Sydney. I even went to Tasmania, and Canberra, which a lot of backpackers don’t.
Darwin was a smaller town than I had imagined it to be. And there wasn’t much to do in the actual town, but it is mainly used as a starting point for trips to Kakadu and Litchfield, which are national parks out in the bush, and also the trip to Alice Springs. Claire (the friend I was travelling with at that point – we had met in Sydney) and I went on trips to Kakadu and Litchfield, both day trips, although most people go on longer trips and camp out. But, the day trips were enough to get a feel for the beauty out there. But, we did go on a 6 day camping trip down to Alice Springs and then around Uluru. That was an amazing trip. The outback was definitely one of the most beautiful parts of Austrlia that I saw. We camped out everynight, one night under the stars so we could see the stars. We saw Katherine Gorge, and the Devils Marbles, which are huge big vaguely circular boulders, swam in Mataranka Hot Springs.
Of course the highlight of that trip was Uluru itself. It was incredible! So so beautiful. We saw it at sunset and watched it change colour as the sun set, and again at sunrise when we did a walk around the base – it was freezing! But totally worth it. We didn’t climb up it though. Although the Aboriginal people don’t completely ban it, walking up it is a sacred part of their culture and tourists are encouraged to respect this and not walk up it. The view is probably pretty amazing from at the top, but respecting the culture and wishes of the local Aboriginal community is far more important than the view.
A popular route on the backpacker trail is to follow the East coast from either north to south, or south to north. I mostly headed south from Cairns to Sydney, although I did this in stages due to work. One big advantage of everyone doing the same trip is that you bump into the same people again and again – this was in the days before Facebook and social media, which have probably changed how people travel. It’s certainly nice to walk into a hostel and see a familiar face, or find a note at reception from a friend who is already in town. Two of the big highlights of the East Coast are the Whitsunday’s, and Fraser Island. I didn’t do Fraser Island due to lack of money, but I did do the Whitsunday’s. The Whitsunday’s is a collection of islands which you sail around and is absolutely stunning – very clear, very blue water, with beaches of white sand. Whitehaven Beach is the highlight, and the colours of the water and beach swirl in and out of each like a watercolour.
For a girl who has lived all her life in a city in the middle of England it turns out I’m a boat-lover and I loved every minute of the 3 days I spent on the racing yacht sailing around the Whitsunday Islands. Life doesn’t get much better than sailing around the open ocean, with the wind in the sails, and the sun shining down on the blue ocean water, while you have nothing better to do than admire the view.
My main two jobs were on cattle stations in the outback, working as mother’s help/nanny, helping with the kids and house work, and at one, the gardening – which I didn’t enjoy. This certainly showed me another side to life in Australia, probably a more real side to life in Australia – afterall, how true to life is life in a hostel? The first cattle station was literally in the middle of nowhere, miles from even a small town, nevermind a town of a decent size. This was where I was on 9/11 – see my blog post 9/11 memorial. This family had 5 kids, and number 6 was due a few weeks after I left. Life here was like no other I’ve ever experienced. I think I only left the property about 2 or 3 times in the 8 weeks I was there, which is typical of life out there. Due to the distance from town we limited TV options – one satelite dish served all the different houses on the whole property, and I wasn’t in control of the channel. We had beef just about everynight for dinner – it was their own meat, and was actually very tasty, but after 8 weeks I was sick of it! The big difference was how the kids were educated. They were pupils of the School of the Air, which means they had their lessons on the property and the school teacher taught them from a school room elsewhere over the radio. They were all expected to go to boarding school at about 12years of age as there is only so much you can learn via the School of the Air. Although I was pleased to leave that property, I am pleased I went there: the outback truely is beautiful, and to experience life there, and to see School of the Air in action, is something that I know added to my year in Australia.
I absolutely loved my year in Australia! This blog barely scratches the surface of what I saw. I had so much fun, seeing the country, travelling around, making it up as I went. Life in hostels was at times hard, but I met so many lovely people that it totally makes up for the less fun times – the food that gets stolen from the communal fridge in the kitchen, the times your new roommates clearly don’t want to talk, the noisy roommates – is there anything noisy or more inconsiderate than a plastic bag being repeatedly rustled at 5am when you’re still trying to sleep? Australia is such a beautiful country, and I feel so lucky to have seen it. I saw so much, but there is so much more to see.
They say travel helps you find yourself, and in my case it was true. While I was there, I met 2 nurses and a midwife, who had positive things to say about their jobs and got me thinking. When I came home, I made the decision to become a children’s nurse. And here I am – 15 years later, a children’s nurse with 10 years experience!