Goodbye To All That
Trip Start Jun 05, 2006
58Trip End May 03, 2007
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Next to me on the flight back to Perth was a really rather cute family whose children were being kept engaged with activity books and all sorts. That's what I like to see. That's the kind of parent I imagine myself as.....anyway, once the young boy of this outfit decided he was tired of being perfect, he started to take pictures of everything. My lap, my feet, my book, my ear, you name it. As he wasn't by a window he soon began brushing up next to me and nudging his lens at my window. Fully annoyed and reluctant to take my eyes off my book, I stole a glance at what he was seeing
I got back to a hotter than average Sydney and did my usual 'raiding CityRail for things to read' routine. A letter that amused me in the Sydney Morning Herald one time came from a visiting American who couldn't understand why there were so many papers (not rubbish) left on the trains. He'd tapped a man on the shoulder who had walked off the train and left his paper behind. What the American had failed to understand, he realised in retrospect, was that it's customary in Australia to leave behind the newspaper you are reading for the next person. The Americano was actually writing to the letters page to apologise to the man for the dressing down he'd given him. And so it is, the way it's always been and the way it'll (thankfully) remain. The CityRail library, where a train journey is never boring. I'd missed it.
By the time I got back to Cherrybrook Susan had gone to bed, so I caught up on emails and headed off for some zzzz's too
One of the things that came up in our conversation was the Easter Show. Because, after all, Easter was nearly upon us. And as Susan reminded me, if you're in Sydney for Easter then you've got to go to the Easter show! My friend Stewart from Newport was a big fan of the Easter Show, which apparently, is the biggest show in Australia. Unfortunately it wasn't actually famous enough for me to have heard of it, but I was convinced it was a big deal, so I agreed to go.
I hopped on a free bus from Cherrybrook to the show, which is held at Sydney's Olympic Showground. I was quite excited to go there because the Sydney Olympics in 2000 were just such a big deal, but I just hadn't gotten around to getting out to Homebush during my time in Sydney. The showground itself is huge - the site runs between the Telstra Stadium and the Acer Arena, both of which host all the big names who bother to bring their tours out to Australia. That would be Robbie Williams. And Robbie Williams, oh - and Kylie Minogue - not forgetting her.
Once out there I met Stew and he explained to me that the biggest deal with the Easter Show was the show bags
But thankfully the Easter Show isn't all about commercialism. There is a lot there to do. The food and drink area was one of my favourite bits (all those free samples!) - and I was also amazed at the giant displays made out of vegetables.
If what I thought I'd seen was standard village fete stuff multiplied to the power of 100, then little could have prepared me for what I encountered next. And a good job I had a beer in my hand to steel myself - because, next, I had my first glimpse at what has become my favourite sport. Wood Chop! Even the name hints at extreme danger and inspires intrigue....
There's a whole arena devoted to this bizarre activity
It all sounds a bit slow-paced, but it's actually very fast moving. The competitors (none from Britain unfortunately) all stand there, axe poised and get counted in to start chopping according to how well they did in the last round. And then they knock planks of wood into the log and climb up it and start hacking away, much like Jack Nicholson in the "Here's Johnny!" scene of The Shining. And all this to the sound of people whooping and hollering while scoffing popcorn (or drinking beer, as in my case). It really is surreal. I'm sure it'll become an Olympic sport one day.
My day at the Easter Show passed in a blur because there was just so much to do there. We'd barely scratched the surface and already it was time for the evening's entertainment. We saw a rodeo, a truck and motorbike show and then some crazy American lady who appears to travel the world firing herself out of a cannon
And then they had to go and play Evermore's 'Light Surrounding You' to the fireworks show at the end didn't they? OK, so Evermore are Kiwis, but they're still Antipodean...and that song had kind of been following me around everywhere I'd been going in Oz and it had almost become a bit of a theme song for me. It didn't actually make me cry as it takes a lot to do that, but it made me think about everything that had happened over the last few months and the reality that it was nearly over. And I'm a sucker for fireworks anyway...at that moment I was transported back to the New Year's Eve fireworks in Sydney, when, as 2007 struck, I realised I was in the middle of the best thing I'd ever done
I decided to spend Easter with Stacy and Benn down in the Gong. Somehow I always ended up gatecrashing their big family occasions, so it was only appropriate that I wormed my way into their Easter party. (I was actually invited!). I hadn't seen Stace and Benn since I left Sydney in January, so there was a lot to catch up on! Their wedding plans, life in the Gong and the extremely exciting fact that they were coming back to the UK too in September. At the time I remember them bemoaning the fact that they'd be going from winter to winter.....but now, as I write this following the second wettest UK summer on record,...I think they did the right thing.
The real reason for the family bash was Kara and Benn's brother Travis's house-warming and engagement party. And whenever there's a Trezedder family gathering you can always be sure they'll be plenty of booze and food around. I was very impressed to see Stacy practically empty a bottle of champagne single-handedly (with a little bit of help from a good friend like me...). It was lovely catching up with the Trezedders again after they'd made me feel so welcome at Christmas. Benn's sisters, Sally and Meghan, are absolutely lovely and even had an Easter egg put aside for me
Somehow the spirit of the champagne made us yearn for the best Saturday nightlife the Gong had to offer. After saying goodbye to the family, I believe we ended up at a pub-cum-club in a place known as 'North Gong'. They charged people to get in so I guess it would be more of a nightclub. But Stacy and I got in for free for some reason. How did we do that again? I really have no idea..
We sat out the dancing for a while because the music started off pretty grungy, but - oh my - it didn't take long for the good stuff to come on. And Stacy and I were then unleashed onto the dancefloor. Benn even came on and showed us his moves. Good times were had.
I said a very sad goodbye to Stacy and Benn the next morning, but at least I knew I'd see them again soon in the UK. I then met Stewart in Wollongong the next morning and we set out on a last hurrah road trip of the bits of NSW I hadn't seen yet. First up was the Nann Tiemen Temple in Wollongong, the largest Buddhist temple in the southern hemisphere. I'd been past it a few times but had never been inside, so it was nice to pay it a visit, especially as it was a very soothing place to go with a bit of a hangover
We then drove on to the Southern Highlands, which I suppose are a little like the Cotswolds. (Just not quite as historic....) To get to Berrima we climbed a very long and winding road. And they're not called the Southern Highlands for nothing - it was distinctly chilly once we got out of the car to go 'antiquing' and to browse some art galleries. After some fun and games of getting lost on our way to the viewpoint we happened upon a little dog that was wandering out on the road. Me being me, I was pretty worried about it being run over and went to check its collar. After Stewart started phoning the mobile on its collar I picked up the little pooch and took it to a house 100 yards away, where it turned out, it came from. Showing no shame and offering me not a words of thanks, its owner ushered the little doggie back inside. Some people, eh?
Once we gave up on finding the viewpoint we inadvertently found a rather charming waterfall and another viewpoint, which I'm sure was equally as lovely as the other one. Satisfied that we'd 'done' the Southern Highlands, we headed back to the Gong where we spent the night. (And of course, had dinner at the RSL club - cheap and cheerful with a good meat raffle to boot - how I miss those RSL clubs...)
Next morning we were up bright and early to do the Grand Pacific Drive back to Sydney
The suburban sprawl of Sydney soon got closer and closer and we were soon headed past the airport and under the Cross City tunnel. We popped out the other end and kept heading north towards Newcastle. The plan here was very sketchy at this stage - Stew and I knew we were staying overnight in Port Stephens but didn't have any specific designs on where we were going to stop off on the road trip. It was pretty amusing to see everyone else headed back into Sydney on Easter Monday as the holidays came to an end, while we were scooting away from the city.
Because I loved the Hunter Valley so much, I talked Stew into stopping there for a bit of wine tasting. The weather had really cleared up by then and it was an absolutely beautiful day. I've been to all the Aussie wine regions and I'm so glad that the Hunter was the one I made a return trip to. It may not produce the volume of wine that the Barossa does, but it really is the most beautiful. After a bit of tasting and buying we next stopped off at the Hunter Valley Gardens, a place I had always intended to go to
We reluctantly left the Hunter to carry up on north. We had planned to get to Newcastle but decided to do it the following day because we were running out of time. We'd done a lot of kms by the time we made it to Port Stephens and it was getting dark. However I was very excited to see that Stewart had booked up an apartment with a pool table where I could practise my shots. (With a beer in the other hand of course..) But in my case, sadly no amount of practise makes perfect. We ducked out for a Thai takeaway and beers and had a quick squizz at Port Stephens and its harbour, which seemed like a lovely coastal town. After a good meal and good conversation, we hit the hay.
It was only when we got up the next day that we actually noticed we had a sea view. And a bloody good one and all. The sea was doing that sparkly shimmering thing that I'm convinced is the special fairy dust sprinkled on the ocean that always makes conditions pleasant in Australia
Port Stephens (or Nelson Bay as it's actually signposted on the map) is known for two things; its steady stream of passing dolphins and its sand dunes. Deciding that we were feeling neither dolphiny or sand-duney, Stew and I just went for a wander along the beach to soak up a bit of atmosphere. Port Stephens is very popular with Novocastrians (FACT! That's what they call people from Newcastle) because of its proximity to the city and because its a peninsula, but on this particular day it was very quiet because of course everyone else had gone back to work.
After a quick dip in the sea we headed up to another viewpoint and found ourself saying cheery-byes to Port Stephens. We headed to Newcastle for lunch.
I'd been meaning to get to Geordie-land for ages. Somehow though the high levels of unemployment, the chilly temperatures and the indecipherable accent kept putting me off. Whoops. Wrong country.
As I've established, in Oz they're called Novocastrians. And despite the proximity of their city to Sydney, they've got a pretty nice set-up of their own. It's NSW's second biggest city and, I hate to admit it, but it's just got a bit more dong! than the Gong. It was pretty busy as we drove towards the CBD. We found a park (as they say in Oz) and wandered on through past some pretty dramatic architecture, modern sculptures, fountains and pretty little cafe society areas to find the city art gallery
There was a pretty cool photographic exhibition in the gallery that taught me a lot about celebrated Novocastrians. Besides the lovely Leonie (who looked after me at Energy Australia) there's the band SilverChair and Andrew Johns (known as Joey), the now ex-captain of the Newcastle Knights AFL team.
Not only does Newcastle have the culture, it's got the food. I was very much in the mood for champers for lunch so Stew and I thought we'd give a harbourside restaurant a bit of a whirl. It was another beautiful day in Oz (just for a change!), so it was perfect sitting out weather. We strolled past a long line of restaurants, all of which have gesturing wait staff stationed outside, desperate to thrust a menu into your hand and coax you into a sunny, comfy chair and get you drinks. The cretins. When we got to our third waitress with puppy dog eyes, I just couldn't say no any longer. And plus, they did a really good oyster dish.
After waddling back to the car, I'm ashamed to say that we did a driving tour of Newcastle's beaches
We stopped off at Gosford on our way back for a quick peek at the Hawkesbury River. It's a very pretty town indeed. But it was back to the real world with a jolt. We stopped off at Officeworks to get a big box. It was for all my 'extras' to be sent back to the UK. And it was the first concerted effort I'm made to prepare for my return. I had to go back now. I'd paid 10 bucks for the box!
My life seemed to be all about the goodbyes these days. I bade Stewart farewell and went inside with a heavy heart. I mean, you can easily say you'll visit again soon....but Australia is just catastrophically far away. Can't they swap it with France or something? Now there's an idea..
If that wasn't all too much, the next day I had to say goodbye to my hairdresser! I'd been going to the lovely Maria in Manly since I found her salon opposite the guest house I stayed in there. This would also be the last time I would take the Manly ferry out across the harbour. It was a ritual I used to love every Monday and Friday when I'd cruise across to the Manly Daily.
After getting my hair, ahem, back to its natural state, I took my last stroll along the esplanade. I just love how it always teems with life; be it a weekday at 9am or 3pm on a weekend. I went past my favourite sushi place and then on to the little animal sculptures that line the path on the way to Shelly Beach. Once at Shelly I climbed on up to my favourite viewpoint. The place I happened upon inadvertently all those many months ago when I arrived in Oz. It had been nearly 11 months but the place still blew me away much as it did the first time. Up there you can see the whole of Manly spread out below you in one direction and the peninsula of the northern beaches stretching out into the distance in the other direction. It's pretty high up, but the water all that distance below you just sparkles. And there are no barriers or no litter bins and no benches. You even have to haul yourself up onto a couple of rocks to get there
All this sentiment had me running late for my drinks in the city with some of the guys from work. I raced back to the ferry port and did my usual thing of running in flip-flops through the CBD. (Hey, I'm not the only one..) I texted Leonie that I was running late and luckily they all were too, It had been four months since I left Energy Australia so I had a fair bit of catching up to do. And who doesn't love office gossip? We met at the Sky Bar, which is just above all the Skygarden shops just off the Pit Street Mall. The rooftop bar is gorgeous. There was champers at the to be had too and somehow this resulted in us playing pool, a game I am utterly hopeless at. I have no sense of aim whatsoever. It was lovely to see Leonie, Pete, Czarina and Zoe again. I miss those times on level 15.
Leonie escorted a maybe-slightly-inebriated Jo Davis to the bus stop and we said our farewells
My mum's cousin Susan was so kind to me during my stay and suggested we go down to Kiama for the night before I left. She knew a woman from church who owned a house overlooking the beach at Kiama so we popped down there the Friday of my last weekend. I'd already been to Kiama but it was just a whistle-stop tour with Stacy during one of the weekends I was down in the Gong. So it was lovely to go back - a very easy journey shooting down the motorway culminating in us 'doing beer and salad' overlooking the sea and driving to a large, sunny house with the most stunning view in the back garden. After we left our stuff we had a relaxing time in town drinking coffee and watching the blowholes. There's a big one and a little one. I even managed to capture my first blowhole action shot. This involved lots of hanging around with finger poised over the camera button but I got there in the end.
That night we made a big roast dinner and watched a DVD while eating profiteroles for pudding. It was all calorifically naughty.
We packed up, left the house ship-shape and made our way back to Kiama for a last lunch before driving back to Sydney. The weather, quelle suprise, had been gorgeous and I could already feel my toes curling at the thought of a barely tepid LA in April.
That night Susan and I went to the Pennant Hills Sports Club for a last meal out. 'Tis a universal truth that Australians are obsessed with these clubs. They're crammed full of cheap beer and pokies. I'd already enjoyed the Corrimal Leagues Club with Stacy and Benn and another one in the Gong with Stewart, but I was glad to finally venture into the Pennant Hills club after going past it so many times. And of course anyone can become a temporary member. Signing that little slip of paper means nothing! You could sign it 'Freddie Kruger' and they'd still wave you on past to start feeding those hungry pokies with coins
I spent much of the next day packing my box and cases and telling Susan I'd be finished in two hours when in fact that meant 10 hours. I'm sadly not the most organised of people in this world, I just put that down to the scatty absent-minded professor in me. However, I'm no genius so maybe I'll just have to put it down to sheer laziness. While I was packing my box I found myself pulling out lots of my old photos, maps and little mementoes and looking at them again. I'd saved things that meant a lot to me like my Uluru ticket, my tennis ticket and my original plane ticket from that first flight to San Francisco. I'd also managed to accrue heaven knows how many books, and had Easter chocolates that I hadn't gotten around to eating. So I left all that for Susan.
Amazingly, with the box offering me 20kg of space, I was able to comfortably fit everything I'd been living with for the last 11 months into my two cases. It's amazing how much stuff you don't actually need. So much of it is just window dressing. If I had to choose, the three luxuries I enjoyed most were my laptop (I had it for part of my travels and it was great for viewing pictures and writing this blog), my camera (for obvious reasons) and my MP3 player
And so it was then; like the missing bookend that would complete the shelf of my trip, all the actions mirroring what I'd done 11 months before at the other end, but this time without the nerves. Like I did back in Andover I weighed my cases on the bathroom scales and checked my hand luggage with a fine tooth comb so I was good to fly. (Although things had changed and now the restrictions were even tighter.)
One of the last things I did in Cherrybrook was take Bentley 'down the track' for our final walk together
It was very hard to accept the reality that it was my last night in Australia so instead I chose denial. I think this continued until I woke up back in Andover. I'd had so long to prepare for going home and adjusting to leave but the nature of travelling was very much about being in the moment and thinking about the present. What lessened the blow significantly was the fact that I was going to briefly see LA and then I had two weeks in Canada, something that was completely unexpected as I set out on the trip but was the thing I'd been looking forward to the most since February
The next morning, a Monday, I felt strangely calm. Susan very kindly offered me a lift to the airport, but we just had to take my box to the post office first. It was going by sea mail (the cheapest option) and I knew that when it got to the other end I'd be back there carving out a new life for myself. 'See you at the other end,' I thought as it was whisked behind the counter.
That left just me and two bags making our way to the airport. We used the Cross City Tunnel to get down to Mascot. Just before we went underground there's a mili-second where you can see a flash of blue of the harbour water by Woollomoollo and about an inch of the harbour bridge. I craned my neck for one last look and swore I'd be back.
I went to Australia not knowing if I'd sink or swim but I knew I had to take a risk and get out of my comfort zone or I'd live to regret it. I never thought I'd feel this way about leaving somewhere that was only meant to be a temporary measure. But it got me. It got under my skin. The friendly people, the sense of humour, the weather and the colourful money. And that's without going into what I loved about Sydney
Susan stayed with me and bought me a beer until it was time to make my way to the gate. It was a little like a wake, one of those typical airport moments when it's hard to make conversation but there really is so much to say. Time seemed to whizz by and it wasn't long before I had to get my working holiday visa (proudly emblazoned across a page of my passport) extinguished for good. But I didn't need a stamp to tell me I had officially left the country. As I walked through the gate, the big lump in my throat told me everything I needed to know.