The eagle-eyed of you might have spotted an extended and (slightly) uncharacteristic absence on this site. Well, exciting news for anyone interested: I’ve relocated to Australia. From the UK, that is. It’s probably important you knew where I started.
After partially re-opening their borders, Australia is beginning to welcome tourists back into the country, witnessing a flood of international travellers, of which I was one. The country is absolutely beautiful and though, in the two months I’ve spent so far, it’s been impossible to encompass all of the numerous attractions, it’s been a thoroughly enjoyable journey.
You can probably anticipate more posts in the coming weeks or months relating to my travels, experiences, or other observations. For now, please enjoy my initial impressions, a couple of months or so in the making.
Australia is gorgeous
My flight arrived late in the evening, masking the country in a shroud of darkness. The train from the airport ploughed through the night, concealing from my yearning eyes the wonders I so desperately sought after twenty-four hour’s confinement to planes and airports. Even so, after navigating towards Bondi Junction train station, I could walk towards Bondi Beach, one of the most famous spots in Sydney.
The evening air was humid and tropical. Roads and pavements were adorned with palms and luscious ferns. The distant crash of waves wafted up from the beach.
I awoke the next morning to a surreal dreamscape of immaculate blue sky, vibrant greens of lawns and palms trees, and a deep turquoise ocean. Sydney could well be situated upon the equator for its generous climate and grateful vegetation, and has remained warm, even as we plunge towards winter.
In central Sydney too, green spaces have been organically interwoven into the fabric of the city, such that they complement rather than oppose each other. In London, tarmac and concrete spread where they please, imposing themselves upon the natural world. Parks are contained within rigid fences and tightly monitored. That sense is entirely vanished from Sydney, where the greenery is as proud as the skyscrapers.
Understandably, the natural beauty sprawls over more space in the regional locales. Rolling plains and fields stretch further than one can see, ending only in tree-adorned hills and mountains.
My trip’s highlight thus far was an expedition into the Blue Mountains. In a worrying indicator of climate change, Australia has been pounded by unusually ferocious and persistent rains in recent months, transforming the Blue Mountains into a treacherous beast with risks of landslides that have even proved fatal. It meant the park itself was primarily closed during my visit, though I was still afforded some stunning views and access to one clifftop track. I can happily report the area is beautiful and expansive, spanning a greater distance than anything I’ve seen before, and utterly timeless. The unravelling scene allegedly appears much the same as six million years ago, standing resolute against the tests of time and humanity. You can find a longer description of the Blue Mountains on my other site.
Australia is unimaginably vast
It’s easy to know Australia is big, but far harder to comprehend the exact scale. Gazing over the Blue Mountains was my first true indicator, as I was reminded of the UK’s Peaks and Lake District. Their size is incomparable. The Blue Mountains aren’t just larger, but are also devoid of human presence. From the peak of Mam Tor, you’ll spot villages and signs of human habitation scattered across the valleys. The Blue Mountains are empty.
Actually travelling Australia additionally instils a sense of how enormous the continent is. Measuring around 50% greater than Europe, it takes a long time to navigate. For all its sheer grandeur, immense stretches are completely empty, only further reinforcing the colossal size.
Australians love history
As a history graduate, I also maintain a fondness for the subject, and what I perceive to be almost akin to a lifestyle of continually reflecting upon the past as it permeates our future. Perhaps it’s partly my affection incontrovertibly guiding our conversations, but many of my extended interactions with Australians have touched upon history.
Aboriginal culture is generally accepted to be around 40,000 years old, with some estimates even dating human traces back 65,000 years. It’s the oldest surviving culture, continuing to be diverse and complex. Modern Sydney now acknowledges the Gadigal tribe as the traditional custodians of the land on which it stands, as part of the Eora Nation, which consisted (consists) of 29 other clans. Much of this heritage is celebrated in museums, art galleries, and open-air exhibits, but the tale is still a tragic one.
’Pioneers’ and colonial settlers engaged in horrific atrocities against the Aboriginal population, including sexual assaults, segregation, and ‘dispersals’, effectively akin to indiscriminate killings and random massacres. Government policies during even the 20th Century promoted assimilation of cultures by forcibly removing First Nation children from their families and offering them to white families for adoption, under the assumption livelihoods would be improved if Aboriginal culture were allowed to die out by natural elimination. This has created the ‘Lost Generation’. It was only in 1967 that Aboriginal people were recognised as full Australian citizens. The celebration of Australia Day remains a contentious issue as a result.
Obviously, I’m approaching the situation as an outsider who was embarrassingly ignorant of the Australian colonisation narrative, so if my interpretations are inaccurate, they aren’t intended to offend. Personally, the signs across Sydney acknowledging the custodial past feels unavoidably similar to virtue signalling, especially since most Australians I’ve met describe their history as young, referring only to the arrival of white settlers. In many towns, there’s a heavy emphasis on promoting the generals and surveyors who explored the land during the 19th Century, overlooking the millennia of Aboriginal tribes previously living by principles of harmony, not dominion, over the land.
In Sydney, there appears to have been a revisionist resurgence focussed on emboldening Aboriginal stories, but that movement has yet to extend to the regional towns I’ve visited.
Australian politics are depressingly similar to the UK
The Australian Federal election is looming, presenting voters with two less-than-ideal candidates. The two dominant parties, the Liberal and Labor, seem virtually ideologically identical to the Conservative and Labour parties respectively of the UK. The centre-right Liberal party has held power in Australia, despite numerous coups and leadership changes in the last decade, but now stand upon a wobbly platform. The Labor party is haunted by past failures and still struggles to establish a firm identity under Anthony Albanese. Personalities triumph over policies, with little vision for the future having been outlined on the election tours.
I will confess, I don’t fully understand the intricacies of electoral districts and voting here, but the national picture feels relatively similar. There are undoubtably more independent candidates running in Australia than the UK too.
Scott Morrison has at least not been quite so scandal ridden as Boris Johnson’s cabinet. In the recent wake of ‘Partygate’ (not a huge fan of the name, as it lends a childish tone to the proceedings) and revelations surrounding Rishi Sunak’s US green card and his wife’s UK tax status, it unfathomable the Conservatives have tolerated such corruption in the upper echelons of their party. I had imagined Liz Truss might adopt to low profile to escape any controversies herself, but the proposed scrapping of the Northern Ireland protocol is another fun surprise.
Watching the Australian leader’s debate (I’m a cool person with cool interests) was entertaining and catastrophic. It descended into a yelling match, much akin to the US 2020 debate, pitting both characters against each other with little semblance of policy discussion. Scott Morrison came off better in my eyes since, despite the moderators continually questioning the electorate’s apparently universal dislike of him, he confidently bullied Alabanese and blustered through any potentially uncomfortable moments with consummate ease.
What’s next in Australia?
Thanks to the terms of my Visa, I’m able to work to fund my holidaying, which is useful since Australia is not the cheapest place I’ve ever been. The government is both forgiving and supportive, however, even offering $200AUD worth of restaurant, activity, and accommodation vouchers to all travellers in NSW.
I hope, in essence, to travel everywhere and see everything, which will occupy a large portion of my time. I’ll try to keep notes on some of the best portions, though.
What’s next for the world?
Standing on a precipice of climate emergency, the world is instead happily trundling backwards into insecure, nationalist wars and regressive laws promoting gender inequalities. Cop26 was barely six months ago, and yet the most recent IPCC report has been utterly disregarded. Better still, a series of ‘climate bombs‘ are apparently poised to thrust the environment into chaos, which doesn’t even account for the existing spread of famines.
Anyways, those are unhappy thoughts, and isn’t it nicer to pretend they don’t exist?
Thanks for reading! I’m sure you remember the drill. Comment some fun questions for me below and I will definitely reply.
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Thanks for sharing your experiences, Tom. My daughter is heading to Australia at the end of August for 6 weeks. One of my co-workers gently pointed out that his wife did the same thing, met him and ended up staying in Australia for years. I’m choosing not to think about that.
It’s interesting how there are so many parallels between Australia and Canada. Both in terms of the vast and varied landscape, but also in our political systems, how we were colonized by the British, and our atrocious treatment of aboriginal peoples.
I look forward to hearing more stories and seeing more beautiful pictures.
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We enjoyed your narrative and colorful photos Tom. You have captured beautifully the enormity and diversity of the country/continent. We wish we could join you on your adventures!
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