Lost At Sea: my adventures down under

A combination of reasons led to my wanting to take a year out from university. The prospect of graduating was looming like a great dust cloud, billowing on the horizon ready to engulf me when least expecting to then spit me up on an employer’s doorstep, inexperienced and clueless. I’d always wanted to work abroad, travel alone and find my feet within a certain industry. It seemed logical to take this break from my studies, and so on the 24th of September 2016 I boarded a plane to Sydney to start an internship the following week.

Delirious, jetlagged, and hungover. I don’t know what I’m doing, or why I’m here. I know no one. As I exit the airport there is a strange sense of positivity in the air. I find this deeply unnerving. This feeling becomes more extreme as I am picked up by my new housemate and driven into the city. It’s about 9am; the sun is already flexing its muscles and bouncing off the water. The Harbour bridge is insanely impressive and the Opera house is beautiful. People are smiling; they’re happy. We go for coffee, I’m introduced to some friends, I meet my other housemate, we go for lunch. The day is a tidal wave of lovely people and numerous drinks; a tsunami of hospitality which eventually sends me into a deep coma until the next morning.

In the UK it’s so easy to blame being antisocial on the dismal weather and average mood of the general population. Here, it’s different. The sky is filled with fluorescent, fiery colours most evenings and the gentle hum of people meeting and laughing cuts through the oven baked air. It’s Friday night. It’s make or break as to whether I decide to live the next 10 months of my time in Australia delving deeper into my dwindling exploration of solitude or I try and muster up some morsel of courage to make some friends. Tentatively I message one of the few people I’ve met and added on Facebook. ‘Hey!’ I feel like the exclamation mark is a blatant expose of my desperation. ‘Hey hey heeey.’ The thrice cooked greeting with an abundance of ‘e’s is drenched with the notion of a loner trying too hard. I go for a simple ‘Yo!’. Perhaps a little obnoxious, but cool and blasé all the same. Before I know it, our conversation has led to my invitation to a house party. An actual house party – I’ve slipped into the urban Sydney party scene without even breaking a sweat. Not only is it a house party, but it’s fancy dress. Step aside social anxiety because fancy dress has arrived to break any ice you wanted to keep afloat. The theme? 1300AD. I’ve been told to meet everyone at the pub, and so after donning the best serf-like attire I can find I glide through the inner suburbs in my new position of feudal servitude. Arriving at the pub, it’s quite obvious that it’s not the done thing to get ready for a fancy dress party five hours before it starts. No matter; ice is broken, beers are drunk and before I know it we are on our merry ways to join the other serfs for a night of durries, VBs and goon. Goon. Goon? Goon is the Australian party goer’s fuel. Whilst slipping and sliding on the dancefloor in my socks and sandals combo, a fellow serf turns to me, raising his arms with what looks like a space blimp in his hands. As it draws closer, it looks more like a colossal aluminium foil pillow case. ‘Ave a fackin swig then!’ Huh? I keep bobbing until the alien balloon starts to smother my face. Noticing a tap on the bottom, I take it and drink. It’s sweet. It’s sour. It’s so acidic I feel like my tongue is going to dissolve into my throat. It’s utterly disgusting and for the rest of the night my mouth tastes like the inside of a fermented durian fruit, but for a mere $10 for 5 litres, why the hell not.

Having beaten some of my social awkwardness with a fancy dress baton, I must continue my pursuit of friendship making by learning the Australian language. ‘Hey how ya going?’ How am I what? How am I… going? This greeting used by 99% of Australians threw me when I first heard it, and still throws me to this day. It makes no grammatical sense, but in a desperate bid to not come across as a pedantic loser, I now use it too. I ask how people are going, how they’ve gone and how they plan to go just to make triple sure that their going is good. Australian’s will shorten ANY word until their language becomes a completely different entity. Avocado becomes avo. Documentary becomes doco. Musician becomes muso. ‘We’re going to meet in the arvo’. I ask my colleague, ‘where’s the arvo?’ A derided snort is the only response I get, but a few ‘arvos’ later and I’m the one laughing as I work out that this means the afternoon. ‘No worries.’ This phrase I like. This phrase is literal. If an English person says to you ‘don’t worry about it’, you have a clear precedent to be worried for a very long time. Australian’s are so relaxed, you know that if they say ‘no worries’, they genuinely mean there are no worries. In that moment of time, they are not worrying, you are not worrying, the whole situation that might have amounted to some potential sum of worry, has been made void of worry.  Now accustomed to Australian slang, I am fully equipped to diffuse into any crowd with people being none the wiser that I’m not actually from this sun-drenched land.

I’ve made a smattering of friends; I’ve learnt their language. Now I must get used to Mother nature. Opening the door to the toilet in my share house I feel my organs spasm and spine fold in on itself. I have never been pathetic when it comes to creepy crawlies, but what is sat in front of me is no crawly. This is the size of a mouse. It’s long meaty legs are elongated by the reflection on the mirror it’s sitting on and the light from above illuminates its thick hair. Without a second thought I slam the door, run to my room and call my housemate. A garbled stream of drivel comes from my mouth to which she replies: get over yourself, it’s a bloody Huntsman, it won’t kill you. Easy for her to say when not confronted by eight sausage like legs and eyes so black they eat into your soul. A somewhat more dangerous experience happens when a friend and I take a trip to the Blue Mountains. Booked into the cheapest Airbnb we can find in the middle of the Australian bush, we decide to go and find somewhere we can swim and alleviate our burnt European skin. Our host, Diana, gives us a casual warning on our departure of Brown snakes and what to do when confronted by one. Brown snakes can’t be that bad, surely? A quick google search tells me that Brown snakes are the most dangerous snake in Australia, the second most venomous in the world and one bite will cause paralysis and an untimely death after only a few minutes. Still, the chances of coming across one are so slim. Half an hour into the walk I express this opinion and as if on cue a long Brown snake slithers slowly on its swollen belly inches from us both. Needless to say, we forget all about our desires of a nice cooling swim and are out of the forest in minutes. There are few places in Australia where there isn’t some animal or insect waiting to unleash its full fury of deadly attack. However, snakes and spiders give me little grief compared to the gut wrenching, stomach clamping, limb immobilising thought of being in deep water with sharks. Horses are Australia’s most ‘deadly’ animal, killing more humans than anything else, I’m told when I ever voice my terror. Sharks kill as many Australians as bees, people say with unintelligible composure. That may be so, but I think I’d rather die planting my Geranium’s in the evening sun rather than thrashing around being torn limb by limb, before being either fully digested or left to sink in pulpy pieces to oceanic depths where light doesn’t even reach.

From that first day I arrived in Sydney, to living in and still exploring Melbourne, there is a continual sense of appreciation and welcoming from everyone you pass. Where in London you might calmly dip your hand into your bag to fumble for your pepper spray at the sight of someone approaching, and God forbid, talking to you, here there is a sense that you could strike up a conversation with anyone on the street and it would not be out of the ordinary. I have lived in Sydney, travelled around New South Wales, spent three days in Uluru, gone up the East coast, explored Tasmania and now live in Melbourne. Every place has been extraordinarily diverse and unbelievably beautiful. Australia has its political, cultural and social problems, which it is a long way from resolving, but in general it is a hugely accepting country where it’s very easy to slip into the rhythm of warm evenings, beach weekends and bush explorations.

Mary Pattisson

(All images author’s own)

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