Some days it feels like I know nothing. I’ll be faced with a challenge that makes me feel useless. Other days I feel like a king, bossing life and making everything look easy. At the moment, I’m cattle watching out in the remote outback of New South Wales, I’ve had time to contemplate Australia and how I’ve learnt more lessons on my three trips to this Southern continent than any other country I’ve been to. Perhaps it’s because it’s so large. Perhaps it’s the people. Or perhaps it’s my reaction to ways of this giant, tree covered, sea side, dusty playground. Whatever it is that gives Australia its uniqueness, it is undoubtedly a land of extremes unlike any other. These are some of the things you realise when travelling in Australia.
1. Age is nothing but a number
Setting our tent up each night at the roadside rest stops, my partner and I couldn’t get over the crowds of people at each one. These were remote pull overs, hundreds of kilometers from the nearest towns, and each one seemed to have its very own retirement community. After a time we came across the term, ‘Grey Nomads‘ Western Australia seems to be the playground for East Coast retirees. These guys have worked their younger years away, sold up, and bought themselves a great big RV to travel around in. We climbed gorges and cooled ourselves off alongside what we joked to be our future selves. It made me hopeful. If I’m still climbing rockslides and exploring bat caves at 80, sign me up for retirement.
2. Money is easy come, easy go
I bought a 4×4 in Perth for a substantial price. I figured if it was more expensive, it was probably in better condition. I poured money into it when the head gasket blew. And then again when the wheel bearings crapped up. By the time I got to Darwin 7 months later, I had enough gear to make the add-ons worth more than the car. I’d earned good money working through WA and NT and was rolling in satisfaction about finally reaching the East Coast to show it all off to my family. Sounds great, right? Except my road trip ended 60kms outside of my outback starting point with a $500 towing fee. Due to time restrictions, the car got sold for a quarter of the price I bought it for before the mod-cons. I could be angry about it, but like I said, money comes as quickly as you spend it out here!
3. You don’t NEED half the things you want
Working out bush gave me a whole new appreciation for what I need vs. what I want. I don’t need a plumbed toilet (yup, I said it!), I don’t need Facebook. I DO NEED water and food and sleep! I’m not preaching that we should all throw away our mobile phones and live like cavemen. I did learn though, that not enough changes every day to warrant our obsession with social media. It’s refreshing to rely less on Facebook and find more joy in the present.
4. Australians take pride in the strangest of things
Australians love to exaggerate! The amount of times I turned up at a place and said, ‘This is not what I expected.’ The pinnacles desert. Staircase to the moon. Kakadu. They are all worth visiting in their own right but I learned that my best experiences were ones I hadn’t been told to experience! Moments such as an Emu standing next to a sign saying, ‘Warning! Emus on the road.’ Feeding an orphaned cow so that it didn’t starve to death. Then there’s the giant fruit statues, or best of all for me, Dunedoo where they tried to build a four story outhouse. Trust me, unless you’ve never visited a true Aussie long-drop, you’ll know it’s probably for the best that they didn’t do it!
5. Australia is a land of opportunity
Work hard and play hard. There are a thousand opportunities. When I lived in rural WA, Australia was a playground. Not only did I learn new skills at work and tried new hobbies. but I also met people who gave me all kinds of random knowledge. When the weekend came about, we would go away and find an adventure. 4×4 along the Gibb River road, fishing in Keep River National Park, climbing gorges, visiting waterfalls, hunting, you name it – we did it. Every time we left the campsite we found another opportunity to make memories and new connections.
6. People can make or break your happiness
I’ve found some people since coming to Australia who I’d happily drive into the outback and dump them there. Luckily, I’ve been privileged to meet some truly amazing friends who vastly outweigh those couple of terrible people. My last night in WA, a guy from outside of town got caught filming the girls in the showers. All of the people we’d been living with prevented him from running using non-violent methods. The police were called to arrest him and the phone confiscated. I was so proud of our campsite community. It would’ve been so easy for someone to try and hurt him for what he had been doing. There were weeks worth of videos and he kept trying to grab his phone back and run. Instead our wonderful backpacker family kept him away from his phone and stood with him to prevent him from escaping. They dealt with it perfectly. That memory will forever remind me of how amazing humans can be.
7. Be careful what you wish for
To get a second year visa, backpackers have to complete 88 days of regional work. My first job that went towards it was in the fields. I spent hours doing manual labour in blistering heat. Everyday I would come home and say, ‘I wish I worked in a packing shed. It would be so much easier.’ When I got my wish and ended up in a mango packing house in NT, I was right. It was easier, cooler, didn’t start at 6am. It was also extremely long hours, 7 days a week and mind numbingly boring. If we talked to the person beside us, we were moved. They threatened to fire us for having a 15 minute smoko, rather than being at our station ready to pack on minute 15. We worked 14 hour days. No music allowed. Print sticker. Pick up a mango, pack the mango. When the box is full, put it on the belt. Of course it was hating this job that led me to finish my 88 days as a water tank builder instead. Since that was one of the best jobs I’ve had, I’m still rather fond of mangos!
8. There are so many more deadly creatures than you’ve ever realised
Crocodiles. Sharks. Spiders. Snakes. Jellyfish. We all know about these. What I didn’t realise, is that Australia has ants the size of your little finger. It has biting flies. Scorpions. Parasites. Bacteria that thrives in the wet season mud that’ll kill you if you walk around bare foot. And, my favourite discovery goes to my West Coast experience with a tarantula hawk. Until you’ve had a three inch, coal black wasp with a retractable two inch stinger cuddle up to your bikini clad bum cheek, you just haven’t lived! It’s number one on the Schmidt pain index. If you see somebody get stung, it is advised you simply lay them down on the ground to let them scream it out. Of course I didn’t know this at the time but luckily I was saved from being stung by a handsome and heroic man! Happy travelling guys. Don’t forget to check your shoes before you put them on…
Written by Mercedes
Updated on the 02/01/2020. Initially published on the 13/10/2018.