Sunday postcard from… Australia

As you step out into the departures hall at the Sydney Airport, you are greeted by banners hanging from the ceiling, and they say: Welcome home. It was the furthest I could go without shooting up into the space – thousands of miles and hundreds of euros worth of a plane ticket between this home and that. more “Sunday postcard from… Australia”

That time I lost my passport to Gangnam Style

If you’ve ever backpacked in Australia, you know that party hostels are abundant and the party only stops for roadtrips and beach activities. I once woke up behind an Irish flag that wasn’t mine to my dorm mate looking for her shoes because the boys had hidden all of the footwear in the dorm the night before while playing ‘floor is lava’, high on the power hour of goon that I didn’t stand a chance of finishing. more “That time I lost my passport to Gangnam Style”

Signs you might be an Australian born in the wrong country

Happy Australia Day!

I swear, for years I have jokingly been telling my friends that I was definitely born in the wrong country. After I visited Italy, I said I must’ve been an Italian in my previous life. However, all signs are pointing towards a nation further away… So I put together a little list of things that definitely show that I should be an Australian, and how you might be one, too.


King’s Canyon

You can’t stand cold. You’d think that over twenty years living in Finland would have taught me, but nope.

You haven’t known true winter until you’ve seen the thermometer hit that -38 degrees and decided that maybe you’ll just learn to hibernate. No wonder bears are so pissed off if you accidentally wake them up in the middle of the winter, I would behave the same way.

I am well aware that Australia’s not always on the sunny side, either (remembering that week-long roadtrip when I never wore less than three shirts at once…) but you know what, I would much rather be ‘oh dang, I need to put on the puffier coat’ cold than ‘I am wearing everything I own and I will never be warm again’ cold. I’ve heard some summer-haters make a point of how if you’re hot, you can only shed clothes to a certain point, opposed to if you’re cold, you can keep on putting on layers. Maybe that’s true, but I’d rather not miss my bus because I spent ten minutes trying to protect myself from the bitter winter and still there’s no way to protect my nose?! Nice try, winter, but no thanks.

Brighton Beach. Melbourne

You’re a night owl. Have you ever run into that crazy Tumblr theory that has it that if you’re more awake at night and terrible at getting out of bed in the morning, maybe you were just born into the wrong timezone? Suddenly everything makes so much more sense. Sydney is some +9 hours ahead of Finland, so when I start dozing off during that 2 p.m. Spanish Grammar class, it has got nothing to do with the previous hearty meal and the fact that Spanish grammar is boring, it is just my body telling me to hit the bed as hard as I can. And when my most productive hours happen to be 10 p.m. to 12 p.m., well, maybe I am just a very rare species of Australian Earlybird.

Why I can’t stand waking up earlier than 8.30 though, that escapes me.

 
Sydney
You have a strange, unexplainable accent. I actually have a British accent, sort of. I’m still not entirely sure where it came from because I remember that in lower secondary school I was consciously trying to talk with an American accent. Apparently, though, I managed to pick up a slight Australian accent as well as I was in the country, even though the few Australians I interacted with didn’t have specifically strong accents. Three years later and I still sometimes have people do the brow-frown and go, ‘I’m sure you’re not Australian but why do you almost sound like one?’
As the story goes, the accent doesn’t go undetected even in other languages. A few months after my OZ trip I’d moved from my home town to Tampere, Finland. One night I was walking home from a gig at the port when a guy stopped me and asked me if I knew where his hotel was. My smart phone at that point wasn’t particularly smart, so after a few minutes of struggling with the maps I had to give up and tell the poor guy I couldn’t help. Mind you, this was all in Finnish. He was already walking away when he suddenly turned around and said: ‘Have you ever been to Australia? Because you sorta have an Australian accent.’ In Finnish, are you kidding me? We chatted for a bit and he was on his way to Australia as well in a few months so maybe it was just a sixth sense or something. Hope you found your hotel in the end, strange accent-detecting dude.
This point also includes using funky slang. Once you’ve used the word “thongs” for flip-flops for almost a year there is just no going back. I still bite my tongue every single time I need to say anything about tho flip-flops because it will just slip out. I’m sorry.
Somewhere on the south coast

You have no problem with small talk. If you read my Truths&Myths post about Finland (or are Finnish), you know that my nation isn’t exactly renowned for it’s people’s chatty quality. In fact, it is often said that Finland doesn’t really have a small talk culture, which a lot of English-speaking countries seem to have. I felt this was the way in Australia as well. A woman started talking to me about my hair in the metro, a guy asked me out for an ice cream on the beach, other backpackers chatted with me in Macca’s. I loved it. Small talk has special importance if you’re travelling alone and you don’t want to feel lonely all the time.

Then again, I am a little on the fence with small talk. I can be a grumpy old man whose ice cream just fell on the ground if you bother me at the wrong moment. I apologize.

 
Katharine Gorge

You don’t really mind freakishly big bugs.  For a lot of people, Australia equals wildlife that either will kill you or give it it’s fair shot. Sure, there might be some drop bears poisonous snakes, but in general the rule seems to be that the bigger the thing, the less poisonous it actually is. Spider-wise, the big ones are the ones that eat small, annoying bugs and flies, thus help keeping your house clean. They are your friends and you should love them. Those other bugs then, I’ve got no clue what their deal is, but they seem to be pretty happy just going about their own business. I shared a tent once with a thing that was all antennas and legs and that little pal was all right.

Then again I have never been particularly squeamish about bugs. When I was little, I used to build spas for worms, and my best friend had a fly farm. I never let my dad squish the occasional spider that had found his merry way into the house but carried them out. This is fortunate for Ben my travel partners in case they need a huge bee removed from their vicinity.

 
Whitehaven Beach
Flinders Range
 

The second you tasted kangaroo, it became your new favourite meat ever. I remember my first kangaroo well. It was my first night in a new hostel, and the event called for celebration. And four kangaroo hamburger steaks were only three or four dollars. Score! That night I made kangaroo hamburgers, and maybe it was because I hadn’t had a burger in a while – or because I had been living on unseasoned mince meat and rice for three weeks – or because, you know, kangaroo is the best thing ever – but those humble burgers were heaven.

I have heard that kangaroo can be terrible if you cook it wrong, and that’s probably true. If ever I hear opposing views on the deliciousness of kangaroo meat, I just refer to this point in my mind and become content again. I don’t care if the kangaroo you had was sinewy and gross, you Danish stranger, because you’re probably wrong. I was made to eat kangaroo.

 
Yummy. The Grampians Mountain Range
Melbourne
Sigh. It’s cold & dark & miserable. Can you tell I’ve got itchy feet?
 
Screw Vegemite, though.

more “Signs you might be an Australian born in the wrong country”

Sunday postcard from… the outback, Australia

Hello friend,

do you remember how we met, the turn that I took and saw you there and joked about books you hadn’t read? Do you remember how we parted, with a hug and a joke that you would haunt me (we would meet again), with a wave from the steps to the airport bus – and just like that, with the closing of a door and the minibus pulling away, you were gone.

The road was long and the car crammed a few weeks later when I took to the road with a couple of good people. It felt good to be on the move again. I thought about you a lot. On the first night of driving we kept on going past sunset. I was leaning my head against the cold hard glass of the backseat window as we flew closer and closer to a range of mountains up ahead. The sun setting to sleep dyed them with fantastical colours, making them look like a part of a set in a fantasy film. The radio was spinning (for the first time on the trip, but not for the last) a Train CD: I hopelessly… helplessly… wonder why everything must change. I thought about you. As we pulled closer to the wondrous mountains, I could see them starting to slowly dissolve into the air and I realised they were just clouds coloured by the last beams of the dying sun.

I wondered if there would be a road to the mountains in the clouds, and whether if we could find them we could direct our route straight through the veil of reality and arrive in a kingdom of castles in the clouds. I was tired and my heart was fluttering fast, almost as if it had been a needle of a compass that was pulling me towards you. I knew it was a silly thought but it excited me. I watched the mountains fade into the night and in my mind slipped out of the idea of finding a fantastical kingdom in a universe far away. After all, in this life there were better things waiting for me. Everything else was pipe dreams.

You said you would haunt me, but I am starting to think that you have been long gone.

Love,
from me

Sunday postcard from… Whitsunday Islands

Goon had flowed free last night. I remember having had a chat with the two other girls on the boats when one of the boys – I think it was one of the Germans, but I’m not sure anymore – hollered at me and told me to go stand at the front of the boat with Tim so they could take pictures of “The Titanic”. Classic.

I woke up to a quiet, damp morning, where the thick silence was only broken by disgruntled moans of the tired and hungover. I and a bunch of other people that had managed to crawl out of their bunks sat shivering on the deck when our diving instructor told we would set off in an hour or two, however, if we’d like we could go snorkeling once more before anchors up. The boys seemed sick to the idea. I remember looking at the uninvitingly grey waters loathing. But I made up my mind and said yes. The two girls smirked and agreed to come along.

We donned on the wetsuits that stuck to the skin like a sleazy embrace and descended from the boat. It surprised me how warm the water was. The temperature was easily more pleasant than up on the deck. The two girls were off already, so I put up my mask, a bit nervous it might let water through. The previous day I had found out I would never dive unless I was willing to face that imminent terror of a horrible death that it made me feel. Snorkeling, however, was fine. I went under.

And there, around me, were tens of translucent jelly fish floating around like ghosts on an underwater parade. I was careful not to touch them even with the wetsuit on, even though a few times I might have, I don’t know. They were everywhere. I swam slowly through their solemn crowd and everywhere I turned, there were more, just sitting there or slowly moving about in their shadowy morning kingdom.

At some point I came up to clean my mask and saw the girls sitting on the beach talking, so I went down again, overwhelmed by the knowledge that I was in the water completely alone now, just me and the swarm of see-through organisms. I slid around for a bit, this time observing the fish at the bottom. The day before I had been impressed by the multitude of fishes, but today there were more. Rapid flashes of swarms of tiny fish went under me. Fishes whose colours were shining brightly amidst the muddy blue paddled on. As I was staring, a huge fish, tall but skinny, sailed under me. I told the crew about it later. I told them it must have been my arm’s length and they said there were no fish that big in such hollow waters and maybe the water had distorted my vision. I didn’t mind. I hold on to that flawed memory because it’s how I remember that morning. I swear that moment the time stopped and the world around me stopped, too, for a heartbeat.

I forgot my camera on board that morning but later I never regretted leaving it. I remember the swim with the fish as I do. No picture could render that feeling better than my unreliable, dreamy memory.