I first travelled to Australia as a fresh faced graduate, nearly three decades ago! My friend Rich, who was at Warwick with me, suggested the trip.
He thought it would be a great idea to go in opposite directions around the world and meet half way. So that’s what we did. Rich went to South America and I went to Asia – the Philippines in fact, where I’d arranged to do some voluntary work at a university in Mindanao.
I’m not sure what I was expecting but what I encountered was fascinating, beautiful, heart warming and at times pretty nerve wracking. In fact current travel advice for the Philippines shows half of the area I went to coded orange (advise against all but essential travel) and half red. Nothing much has changed.
The remains of a bus that had been ambushed and set alight, still smouldering on the roadside as I journeyed from the airport to the place I was staying, rang the first alarm bell…
I stayed a month. I’d planned to stay three but decided instead to go for it, take some risks, have some adventures and make some memories but then push on. I don’t regret a minute of this first stop on my west-to-east around the world trip, but by the new year I was ready for the next leg, Australia.
New Year’s Eve on the Rocks in Sydney was quite something. I loved it and soaked up the city and its sights on my traveller’s budget while I looked for some casual work to help fund my year away. Competition for work was tough though and I guess back then, as now, I was a country girl at heart, so it didn’t take long for me to head inland and my first stop, Orange, sealed my love affair with country New South Wales from the (almost) moment I arrived.
I say almost because my first night in Orange was a bit grim. My quest for budget accommodation took me to the Occidental Hotel. I didn’t mind the lack of frills and I was resigned to the shared bathrooms, but I was a bit creeped out by the old bloke who slept on top of his bed, starkers, with his bedroom door wide open.
Keen to find some more suitable accommodation for a single female traveller, I packed up my rucksack and said goodbye to the Occidental the next morning. The Youth Hostel was surely more likely to be a perv-free zone…
My luck was in. I called them and not only did they have space, the wardens had plans to go away for a few days and I could stay for free if I kept an eye on the place. They assured me that they could quickly show me the ropes, all I need to do was get myself there, which was not quite as simple as it sounded because the Orange Youth Hostel, a bit like a Ryanair airport, was in fact 10km outside of Orange at Mount Canobolas.
But that was fine. The thing I loved most about my first year of travel was the sense of opportunity. I had no plans, only a rough idea of where I was heading and a flexible airline ticket. I’d survived the Philippines, surely I could get to Orange Youth Hostel?
Keen to get cracking, I called into the Tourist Information Centre where the woman behind the counter expressed reservations about “sending you out there, after the murder*…”.
*The most notorious death on Mount Canobolas was that of Dearne Nonnenmacher who was brutally murdered on Christmas Day 1990. (news.com.au – full story)
Apparently, having issued this caution she (Annie), saw the despair in my eyes and took pity. She offered me a coffee and within an hour I was meeting her friends at Toad Cottage, 354 Summer Street East. Within a couple of weeks Rich, who had arrived in Australia from the other direction, had moved in too.
Twenty seven years later Rich and I went back to celebrate Annie’s birthday with her. She is godmother to his children and a lifelong friend to us both. Over the years she’s generously shared her family and friends with us and quite frankly, some of the happiest times of my life are down to Annie.
That’s why Australia.