I promised to write one last post from Oz before we set sail for Indonesia, but every time I try to get a handle on it, I get tears in my eyes. Both on land and on sea, Eric and I have lived and traveled in this vast, beautiful, big-hearted country for three years now, and I feel more at home here than any other place on Earth.
The first day we stepped off Corroboree after clearing into Bundaberg, Queensland, in May 2019, we came upon kangaroos in the field beyond the marina. How can you not love a country that has bounding kangaroos, prickly echidnas, sleepy koalas and aptly named rainbow lorikeets squawking in the trees? Where 25,000 humpback whales migrate up and down the east coast each year, breaching, spy-hopping and fluke-slapping as they go. Where the world’s largest reptile, the deadly saltwater crocodile can reach up to 22’ in length. Where emus stroll through your campground as if they owned the place and dingos howl on the beach of your island anchorage on a moonlit night.
The landscape veers from spectacularly beautiful to spectacularly empty. On the coast, miles-long beaches of tawny sand with crashing blue waves propel fleets of agile surfers to shore. In the dust of the Outback, hardy ranchers and farmers raise huge herds of sheep and cattle and grow bountiful crops that fill the city grocery stores. In between are the mountains, aka the Dividing Range. Australia’s peaks are nowhere near as high or dramatic as the Rockies, but that is perhaps compensated for by the miraculous underwater scenery of the Great Barrier Reef—you can’t have it all. And in the center of the continent, the red desert heart, a sunrise camel ride at Uluru will give you a whole different view of the world.
Australia abounds with art, literature, film, music, museums and theaters, and even though I’ve stocked up on Vegemite for my toast, breakfast won’t be the same without ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) Classic Radio. Oz is loud and colorful when fireworks explode over the iconic Sydney Opera House on New Year’s Eve. It’s a mysterious whisper from the past when faint ochre figures hunt a painted kangaroo on a cave wall. The driest continent on Earth, the land turns green in an instant when the rain starts to fall. Many of Australia’s gorgeous botanic gardens were founded early on in its colonial history, as if you couldn’t call yourself a proper city without one, and the modern waterfront esplanades, laid out with playgrounds and picnic tables, ensure that everyone has a shady place to walk their dog, hold a birthday party, and access the shore.
It helps, of course, that everyone speaks English—or do they? Sometimes we still have to ask people to define an odd word or phrase or repeat something that didn’t come across clearly to our ears. No worries. Aussies don’t take offense, and if they rib you about anything, that is actually a good sign. As one Aussie told us, “f we’re not trying to take the mickey out of you, that means we don’t like you.” Whatever they think of Americans in general, they didn’t judge us by stereotypes, and when we signed on as volunteers—at the Lifeline Thrift Store in Bundaberg, the Maritime Museum in Townsville, and Royal Darwin Public Hospital—we were warmly welcomed. Along with our extended stay in Australia due to Covid, these opportunities not just to visit but to participate in the daily life of Oz made it easy to put down roots. Thank you for letting us be part of the team!
Moreover, Eric and I were ideologically in tune with Australia from day one. A National Health Program that Aussies love to brag about. A mindset about gun control that means no waking up to the latest mass shooting on the news. Safe, legal abortion in every state and territory. Freedom of and from religion. Although Australians practice a variety of traditional and nontraditional beliefs, religion does not feel heavy-handed here. Our visit to a Sikh temple was especially illuminating, and we’d be happy to share a beer with any of the 48,000 Aussies who, in the 2016 Census, identified their religious affiliation as “Jedi.” In fact, I would say that the main religion in Australia is beer. They leave it out for Santa instead of milk and cookies, and when we recently asked a few people if they were doing anything to celebrate Easter, they replied, “Yes, drinking beer.”
Could Oz get any better? Sure. The bureaucracy is onerous—Is there anywhere it isn’t nowadays?—and while efforts to address the past injustices done to the Aboriginal people are ongoing, there are still big inequalities between white and black communities to which I don’t pretend to have the answers. Additionally, although Australia seems blessed with abundant solar and wind power and plenty of people pushing to utilize it, the national government lags behind other developed countries in addressing environmental issues. Voters may change that in the upcoming national election on 22 May. As a side note, voting is mandatory in Australia, and while some Aussies we’ve met disagree with this, the idea that voting is not only your right but your responsibility as a citizen hits home. Both voter apathy and voter suppression scare the hell out of me. Without the ballot box, we have no democracy.
The thing Eric and I loved most about Australia when we first arrived was that it seemed so united. Maybe we weren’t perceptive enough, maybe we were just bowled over. As elsewhere, Covid has revealed fault lines in Oz we didn’t guess were there. But in contrast to the virulent divisions in the United States, it feels like there is still a middle ground in the Land Down Under. I want that middle ground, and please, Australia, don’t ever let it go. If it were not for finishing this voyage and returning to our family, I could see myself living happily ever after here.
In a few days, I will leave with tears in my eyes. When your roots are yanked up, it hurts.
To follow us on our voyage, go to either of these links:
Corroboree position on Garmin: https://share.garmin.com/CORROBOREE
Corroboree position on PredictWind: https://forecast.predictwind.com/tracking/display/SV_CORROBOREE/