Archives for category: discovery

It’s six months since I left Australia – though Australia hasn’t left me, and probably won’t. Haven’t written any entries since Dubai. Too shellshocked by hemispheric upheaval/new job/old house full of other people’s debris/living out of suitcases for two months then blocked in by boxes when everything arrived in Leeds. But it’s probably time to wrap up this blog. I wanted to share the experiences – good and bad – of relocating across the planet when not in first flush of youth.

The following are notes on returning to previous location but not previous life (The Shock of the Old?). Some are captured before Brexit vote, some after (e.g. What have I DONE???).

  • I’m driving up the M1 in my hired car and I can’t remember the speed limit.
  • Got lost twice today in Leeds visiting old friend – roads are familiar so I stay on them, but expected roundabouts fail to materialise.
  • After some years of ‘fancy a coffee/movie/meal today?’, it’s back to ‘ are you free in a fortnight’s time?’
  • Newscasters and reporters have aged – men more than women probably because they wear less make up.
  • Nicholas Parsons is STILL on radio 4  – but I can’t remember the schedule any more, so don’t know how to avoid him.
  • All the shops are part of chains & franchises – only independent retail seen today in Leeds far was the great Jumbo records, still going
  • But Huddersfield has cool indie coffee shops (#northernteahouse) and Sowerby Bridge has good food. I go for drives and am happy to eat alone – another legacy.

Everything looks strange – my anthropological eye is now cast homewards. This is exhausting so I spend  lot of time in my hotel room, asleep.

Then I move back into my old and much missed home, but it isn’t mine. Every cupboard is full of tenants toothbrushes, discarded duvets, old cutlery.There’s a gnome in the garden. I remember another life in that house, but it is a long time ago and I seem to be haunting it. Things improve when the stuff I shipped back arrives – nice pieces from the Blue Mountains – and I start fitting the Australian and Yorkshire parts of the jigsaw together.Six months on and there are still a lot of boxes to unpack, but no rush. Things also get better when friends come to stay and I recall that home consists of people not things.

The UK I have returned to is changed – 5 years of Coalition then Tory Government – creating a particularly cruel, vindictive use of benefits system to punish the poorest and most needy.  I don’t think Australians would allow this to happen (to non-Aboriginals anyway). They still have a public sector, and trade unions. UK has voted to leave Europe, having already sold its heritage to corporate speculators and hedge fund bankers. The place is full of toxic fantasies. Back to Blighted.

But I do like the bustle, the full trains, the coffee shops at every corner, the new M&S food hall at the bottom of my road. And I like the variety of human beings that surround me, in shops, trains and – a real contrast – work. So many non-white faces at last. It’s also brilliant that London is a train ride away, Spain a short haul flight. I can pop round for tea with my dad, find my place in the family again, while I slowly reconnect with old friends, whose lives have also changed in the past five years. There have been births, deaths, divorces, moves of all kinds. Lots of catching up to do.

The main thing, though, has been getting to grips with the new job. As usual when life feels chaotic, I turn to work as my anchor. Six months on, this has been a good call – my ideas and contribution are valued and I work with several talented senior women at Huddersfield Uni. There have been some teething problems with rooms and so on but I haven’t felt gender-conscious since I got back to UK. It’s a bigger relief than I expected. Seriously, Australia, you really need to make better use of your very fine females. Even the nice guys are in the way. I miss my lovely women friends, Bernadette, Jo-Anne, Michelle, Jane….

I miss the sounds ALL the time – the kookaburra dawn chorus, possums on the roof, the magpie arpeggios. I notice every gum tree (one, rather forlorn, at the back of my Leeds house and a beauty in Spain). I corner Antipodean friends and colleagues at conferences, parties, anywhere, to talk about the place. No-one here knows or cares that much. One person sneered that Australia didn’t even have a decent mountain range; I pointed out that it was so old a land mass, they had been eroded.

But then I didn’t know how old the land was until I got there and it told me. You feel it all the time, this ancient presence, just waiting, sometimes welcoming, sometimes shrugging us off. You can feel your feet sinking in – if you want to.  I have left but not forgotten. Australia introduced me to geological time.

Now Europe looks so young, with all its pointy bits still sharp and edgy. All the workable land is worked and has been for thousands of years, unlike the vast emptiness of Australia. Took a visiting prof with a farming background over the Yorkshire moors and he could see how many farms there were occupying space that would have been one maybe two stations back home. The land here tells of lords and peasants, strip farming, inheritance law and people striving to feed themselves over millennia. It’s just a different story.

I guess that’s my conclusion – everything is altered by the experience of living in Australia. What was familiar is no longer, but then its new strangeness has a new wonder. At first I wasn’t sure about going back, it’s not something I do much. Now I can see I haven’t gone back, but forward.

 

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January 26 is Australia Day, the anniversary of the first European settlers arrival. In other words, it commemorates the last five – white –  minutes of Australian history and disregards the rest. Following the universal general degradation of patriotism to nationalism, it has been co-opted to privilege one version of history over all others. I thought this cartoon about the call on the populace to stop what they’re doing and sing the national anthem at noon was satirical. I was wrong.

First Dog cartoon

And then this morning, heard that the top Australian honour has gone to Prince Philip. Honest. Thank God that these things are handled so ineptly they feed the opposition.

BUT, but but. Something is changing in me and this seems as good as any a day to record it. For example, this is the first post in months, because I no longer experience Australia as a visitor; it’s where I live and work. I’m not really Down Under any more, just here.

I also noticed in my recent role as tourist guide and fellow adventurer with my sister, Kate,  on her first visit here over Xmas, I kept saying ‘we do this, we do that, here’. Seeing the now-familiar through her eyes was also instructive, and this post is about some of those observations (pt1).

Kate arrived with a foot infection that worsened over several days, leading to multiple interactions with pharmacists and eventually (successfully) the Emergency Room – every single person was so kind, concerned, helpful and warm. And I felt proud! You can, of course, still find this generosity in the UK, especially in the north of England and outside major cities, but it struggles against the pressures of business and rotten wages and the long years of austerity which have barely touched Australia despite various pleas to tighten belts.

I also had a great time doing touristy things that turned out to not so touristy after all. I assumed Katoomba’s  Scenic World would be some kind of sub-Disney tat, but it was brilliant. The thrill seekers took the funicular down and made their way briskly to the Up transport, abandoning the temperate rainforest of the valley floor for us to explore. The interwoven strands of roots and 19th C mining cables were poignant, like traces of a lost civilisation, which I suppose they are.

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Admittedly the Jenolan Caves did look more like Disneyworld, on the surface at least, with a kind of Tyrolean look that seemed tenuously connected to the site and its Indigenous stories. But once underground, the magic was way beyond Walt’s imagination, with delicate organic structures as mysterious and beautiful – and old – as this land. Like a visit to the body of the Earth, folded and dark. The guide told the origin stories with such feeling our group of gawkers fell silent and let the tale seep into us like the crystal drips we could hear in the background. And then we emerged to the Blue Lake and fell silent again.

Jenolan Caves

caves

Blue Lake

Just back from a week walking in Tasmania with a camera full of stories. Will try and unpack something each day.

Starting with Hobart airport – smallest I’ve landed in for some time (smaller than Granada, Spain, for example) – one baggage claim track, no buses to town, you’re kind of on your own here. A Yorkshire approach – if you don’t know your way round, what you doing here? Intrepid adventurer that I am, I made it to the city (!), which was closed – but then it was Sunday.  The centre (called CBD in Australian towns, for central business development, I think) reminded me of Preston, with its Poundstretcher-type shops and criminal concrete office blocks plonked into  old shop fronts and connected by standard issue malls. At least Preston had the excuse of being bombed. (Wait, it does get better…)

Horrid Hobart office blocks in beautiful settingHobart harbour, old and newLovely old office block

Yet the setting is absolutely lovely; Mount Wellington behind, deep harbour ahead, fringed with nineteenth century pubs and, the first building in every settlement, the customs house. Spent a great couple of hours in the Tasmanian Museum, which has the ramp from early settlement, around 1810, revealed in its forecourt, like Roman ruins. One of the oldest buildings in town, it contains both its own history and, on the top floor, that of the people the British displaced. Tasmanian Aboriginal peoples were completely wiped out as I understand it (from guides who refer to various explorers “encountering trouble” ) though their scattered descendants are now trying to reconstruct what was 40,000 years of continuous culture until a couple of hundred years ago. More on this later.

Tasmanian museum

I bought a pocket-sized cam corder thing to capture the wonders of Far North Queensland, as a result of which I have several hours’ recording of the lining of my shorts. Could be a new art form I suppose, but I’ll spare the full muffled horror and edit the highlights.

Another technical hitch occurred when we got to the Barrier Reef and it was allunder water! Who knew? Rats, my unwaterproof cheap shit video whatsit might as well carry on with its intra-clothing surveillance. Instead, finally togged in wet suit, depth weights (not so many needed), O2 tank, mask and semaphore signals to tell my guide if I hit trouble,  I turned on my inner cam corder, opened the lens of my heart and flew over the underworld in a state of … can you have humbled glory? If my jaw  hadn’t been clenched to the mouthpiece, it’d have been open. I had simply no idea that one life form, the coral, could be so multiplicitous (?). While the names given to the coral were pedestrian in the extreme – if it’s flat and round, it’s plate coral; if its long and frondy, it’s spaghetti c; if it looks like a mushroom, well you can guess the rest. My favourite was the blue antler coral, but it was the combination of structures, textures and colours that was overwhelming, all studded with jewel fish darting drifting schooling about. And, yes, the ‘Nemo’ fish got a check, hiding in the maroon anemone coral. I had the offer of another scuba dive but was too busy processing the first. Now I’m back I want to do it again, train properly, spend my pension, that kind of thing. A real experience.

 

Just tried to upload video and am told it can’t be shown for ‘security reasons’ ??????? Will try later

Astonishingly six months have passed since I arrived in Australia – all travellers know that time slows down as you observe every blade of grass, every unfamiliar birdsong, fragrance, the intensity of light, the high, high sky, to say nothing of the Southern Cross and Orion face down across the heavens. Even the supermarket is a place of mystery and adventure – what’s a TimTam? Why are jellies made by Areoplane?

In those first few weeks I found a house a car a bank a phone a TV, all that STUFF I’ve gathered in so few months. i’ve made it to Sydney for Xmas and found an escape to woods and water in south NSW where I can hang out with gum trees and kangaroos.

I’ve also shifted from a mainly home-based independent researcher to a full time employee, with an office and colleagues and, groan, an endless sea of emails. I’ve written papers, learned most of my students names, discovered that Australians can tick an organ donation box when they get their driving licence (student projects are SO informative).

So many new experiences and until recently a great sense of expansion and possibility.  Perhaps La Traviata by the harbour was a high point. For various reasons, the last month has been a season of shutting doors, closing options, diminishing expectations. Perhaps it coincides with some 6 monthly dip experienced by relocators, I don’t know. And winter is creeping in with freezing mornings (the house is less insulated than a tent).  So, a period of confusion and disappointment just now  –  I don’t want to do a relentlessly upbeat blog, so here’s some downsides: small town anywhere can be oppressively domestic, working for organisations can be financially rewarding but creatively restrictive,  the people who offered academic adventures can leave, and of course, while being away from home can be liberating you don’t stop missing the people you love.

But this too is the point, to be conscious, to gain as much from this experience – good and bad – as it has to offer. My next goal is to probably to reduce the academic output that’s so difficult to juggle with teaching, leading to long days and short weekends, and find more ways to have FUN.

Getting ready for new students. After a lifetime of northern hemisphere education, I have to translate, to keep remembering that February is September, students arrive early late Sept /Feb with teaching getting started in Oct/Mar. After that I get too confused and have to turn easter into christmas which I suspect is sacrilegious. So the year has a completely different shape and rhythm here, starting the new year mid-summer, sloping down to winter in the middle then up again to the close of year. How powerful the seasons are as framing devices, a kind of clock deep in the psyche.  So I understand completely the year turning here, colours fading into browns, air cooling – I just can’t call it February, which is all about new beginnings, first shoots, late snows.

Inside the office of course, it’s just work, trying to get my head round new systems, particularly e-learning tools. I wil be running three distance subjects and teaching all 4 tutorials on one first year subject (subjects being the unit of study, making up a course). Looking forward to meeting young Australians – though I have two 8 am starts (yikes) so no idea what kind of shape either of us will be in at that hour.

The distance material is harder to understand – one subject is a brick of explication and instruction, the other a couple of pages of guidance. This is a different kind of teaching to me – hard to know what student expectations are but that will doubtless take shape in next few weeks. Inevitably there are new job anxieties but I know I can teach, even if I don’t know how to enter stuff in the right format on the interactive websites.

My big mission for myself is to learn the ropes, teach in a thoughtful and respectful way – within reasonable boundaries – and retain enough creativity, stamina and imagination to keep making progress on the Jung book. Attempts to write fiction and teach have failed miserably in the past, consigning whole novels to the slush pile before their time as al my energy was spent in the classroom (no complaints) or much worse, in front of the PC processing emails. I remind myself that was another country and another time (and cross my fingers that I have changed enough in the interim not to fall back into bad habits).

The other great solace when work builds up is just outside the School door: Australia.

Last weekend I drove to Jervis Bay, a six hour drive through magnificent NSW farmland, craggy rift mountains and lush Kangaroo Valley to the coast

http://www.jervisbaytourism.com.au/

and stayed at Kullindi homestead, a delightful cabin in a eucalyptus wood surrounded by cuckaburras, crimson rosellas and kangaroos who are all there because it’s their home. Cabin lodged in small complex between gum trees and the Sussex inlet, between the lake of St George’s Basin and the sea (it’s actually the South Pacific here!!) – – perfect peace, deep sleeps. Inside Booderee national park – only Australian national park run by Aboriginals whose clan  have lived on site for thousands of years. http://www.environment.gov.au/parks/booderee/

http://www.kullindihomestead.com.au/

Spent a couple of days trying out the different beaches round the bay, all soft white sand, woodland to the beach, turquoise water – so beautiful I kept laughing. This is on my doorstep, just about. Plan to go again – soon.

Pix prove the point I think….. (tho something has gone funny in uploading – will post like this and try and edit later)

[slideshow]

This morning, a new book promo (see link) arrives going deeper into some of the themes above. Looks irresistible.
New book on Australia, land, psyche