Just over five years ago I was reaching the end of my Masters degree, a two year slog studying Western Esotericism whilst working at the same time. As riveted as I was (and still am) by the subject of esotericism, by the end of my studies I was exhausted and disillusioned with the academic institution. I had gone through nursery, primary school, secondary school, college, university and then university again without any break from learning.
Now, I love learning. My personal book collection (ranging from history to cookbooks) attests to this. I have well over 400 books in my bedroom. But, by the end of my Masters I was spent, and for the first time I had no idea of what I wanted to do next. The plan had always been Bachelors degree, followed by Masters, then PhD, then writing and lecturing. But, as I grew spiritually, I found the academic institution too restrictive.
A couple of my friends, though not exactly in the same situation, felt a similar lack of purpose and goals. One night, pretty much on a whim, we decided “Hey, let’s go to Australia!”. Four months later we left the UK, bound for Sydney.
This post originally started as a travel piece for Australia, but the truth is that my life in Australia was so much more than just a sight-seeing trip. It was a true adventure, in every sense of the word, and so I feel a need to share how much of an impact that period of my life had on me and my growth as a person.
I was in Australia for nine months, but I felt like I had a life there. I worked and lived in Melbourne for six months alongside fellow travellers and local Australians. We started our journey in a tent, but eventually moved into a house with an Aussie and a New Zealander. The work my friend and I did wasn’t particularly exciting: we were data entry clerks. But, the experience was real and solid. We got up at 4.30am in order to catch the first tram into the city alongside the other commuters. We paid taxes and worked 8 hours a day (often longer). We laughed with our colleagues over breaks and our daily, mid-morning stroll around the block to give our minds a break from the computers. Ironically, now I instinctively rebel against such an apparently ‘mundane’ routine, but for some reason this working life in Melbourne makes me feel like I really had a life in Melbourne. I wasn’t just a tourist, and I am so grateful for that. Melbourne is now home to me, albeit one very far away that I hope to go back to as often as I can. The song says ‘I left my heart in San Francisco’, but I really did leave part of my heart in Melbourne.
Of course, the bigger plan was to travel around Australia and sight-see. We saved as much cash as we could whilst working in order to be able to experience the length and breadth of that country (or as much as was humanly possible!). And, we saw a lot: Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide, Alice Springs, Darwin, Perth. We journeyed up the West Coast and back, literally spent a total of 7 days and 6 nights on trains as we moved about the country. We swam with reef sharks, whale watched on the beach, played in plunge pools, watched crocodiles with a mix of giddy delight and fear. We took in the massively awesome grandeur of Uluru, hiked the Blue Mountains and snuggled orphan joeys. We met all kinds of people along the way (and anyone who has ever stayed in a backpacker hostel will know that I mean all kinds). And, one of the best things of all was reconnecting with family members that we had lost contact with, journeying into inner Queensland to stay with them. I had never met or spoken to these people until we were invited to stay, but I found in them kindred spirits and life-long friends, and their way of life really moved and inspired me. Meeting them was a life changing experience.
When you go travelling, everything is different. You break from your normal routines and discover new things, and it reignites the fire within. But, I really think there is a magic about Australia, and everyone that I know who has been there says the same. There is something transformative about the energy there: a rawness and a wildness that is potent. It’s hard to put your finger on it to explain, but you can sense it.
Going to Australia opened up my world completely. I didn’t come back a changed person: I came back a more exposed person. By that, I mean it really started me on a thought-provoking journey of self-discovery; cracks started forming in the layers of illusion and expectations of who I thought I should be, and I had begun to see who I truly was underneath.
That may sound melodramatic, but it is true. During those nine months one of my friendships ended, I suffered a confusing and somewhat frightening period of ill health which left me hospitalised (I now believe this was emotional issues showing up in my body as physical issues), and I was forced to confront these things with nowhere to run to, and no family near by. But, also during those nine months I saw and did wondrous, unusual and eye-opening things: the desert night sky when camping out by Uluru, the earthquake damage in Christchurch when we briefly visited New Zealand (2011), swimming in the Ningaloo Reef. I started to truly realise what I am capable of, and how much there is out there in the world to be truly awed by. Those are things you cannot put any price on.
My time in Australia is, and always will be, an epic marker in my life. One of those transition periods from old to new. Don’t get me wrong: when I came back to the UK I still didn’t have a clue what I wanted to do with myself. This January marked five years since we left to start that adventure and I am still trying to figure things out. But I definitely feel that going there gave me some clarity and catapulted me on a different trajectory. We’ll see where it leads.
I’d love to know what experiences my fellow travellers and explorers have had during their adventures around the globe! What does travelling mean to you, and how has it changed you/evolved you?
If anyone is ever considering going to Australia or New Zealand, GO! You won’t regret it, at all (see my slide show below for a snap shot of Australia, if you need a final bit of convincing!)
(All photographs are mine).