An Ode to Australia

An Ode to Australia

There’s nothing like the sweet relief of a road sign advertising Peter’s ice cream five kilometres away when you’ve spent the last 600 surrounded by red dirt. The Gibb River Road is relentless. As the car ambles closer over the endless road, the continual signs shine brighter like little beacons of hope. The appearance of the small roadside caravan with the Peter’s logo emblazoned proudly on its side feels like I’ve manifested an oasis in real life. It almost glitters, but it’s hard to tell if it’s the glare from midday sun or just sweat coating my eyelashes.

I make for the servery created by the side of the caravan and am greeted with the back of disheveled looking man, a smoking durry still in hand. He turns around with a toothy smile and says with a typical Australian drawl “Hey-a kids, how ya doing?” while holding a fist to the stoma in his neck. The Frosty Fruit is so close and I hand over my two dollars almost maniacally. Nothing I’ve had since has ever tasted as satisfying.

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There’s a certain air of specialness I feel about the country I call home. Unfortunately, that soft spot is tarnished by certain government policies and societal inclinations, but it’s unfair to put the whole country down purely because those who live in it aren’t always stellar. You can’t be mad at a tree for the way it grows, but you can detest those that scratch racial tirades into its bark. Basically, it’s not the people that give me the warm fuzzies when I think of Australia.

At midnight on New Year’s Eve, I sat with my closest friend and a thousand other strangers on the side of a hill overlooking the beach, listening to the waves roll in one after the other. Sure, the view of the fireworks was a bit shit, but at least we could see them flicker in a dotted line of celebration for kilometres up the coastline. We sat for hours, sipping goon from plastic cups slowly crusting with salt from the sea breeze and straining to hear the music playing off my tinny speakers.

I started to consider the year ahead of me. I have seven months abroad looming on the horizon. Alone. A Euro Trip is almost a rite of passage to young Australians who are privileged with the time and money to flitter it away, and 2017 was going to be my moment, dammit. The buzz from my friends and family has been growing and they all ask the exact same question.

What are you most excited about?

As someone who’s never been to Europe, there are endless possibilities to look forward to. There’s standing under the Eiffel Tower and, among many other things, tactically vomiting into an Ibiza alleyway. These opportunities are both thrilling and anxiety-inducing. I’m a planner. I’ve been combing through blogs and travel journals trying to equip myself with information for my perfectly organised folder. What’s better, a hop-on-hop-off bus or Eurail? Airbnb or hostel? There’s too much to comprehend; an internship in Tokyo, a month-long Europe tour and then four months studying abroad. The fingernails I’ve meticulously tried to grow over the last few months have been torn to shreds when I stop to consider the unknown factors ahead of me. There is no way I can schedule seven months of my life. It’s as if suddenly I’m faced with the reality that I might not be as adult as I thought I was and my bitten off nails take me back to being a child sleeping on the floor of my family’s camper trailer.

There’s a certain ease to travelling your own country. Stressors like language barriers and currency exchange are nonexistent. Australia is vast and unfortunately untraversed by many that call the country home. I’ve been lucky enough to see a lot of it and to feel the red dirt of the desert weave its way through my clothes and unfortunately stain the baby blue Crocs I was so proud of.

To watch the sunset over Broome with a stubby in hand is humbling. Everyone sits in peace and watches the boats on the horizon as the sun dips below it.

I looked on as my brother waded across the East Alligator River with just a stick in hand to protect himself, to ensure the car would make it through the water so we could continue our lengthy journey.

I’ve humoured a self proclaimed Cat Shaman in Byron Bay to help while away the time as we waited for our fish and chip order to be cooked. He told us that the perfect way to tip a cat over is to tie a loose piece of string around its belly. We were resting in the shade of a frangipani tree.

I sat in the Daintree Rainforest as French tourists marvelled at the flora unfolding before them. I was sweaty, mildly sunburnt and my feet hurt because I soon discovered Birkenstocks are not made for bush walks. But my heart warmed at the sounds of feet crunching over gravel and the local guide proudly sharing the Kuku Yalanji’s connection to the land with these tourists.

I sat on the edge of dusty watering hole beside the Gibb River Road as the Frosty Fruit dripped onto my hand. The sticky residue soon covered my entire palm. I could feel the weight of the coins in my pocket and looked out across the desert. I bought another ice cream.

It’s because of all this there’s one niggling thought that keeps persisting even when I’m trying to answer that aforementioned question.

I’m most excited to come home.

Cover by Heidi Sandstrom