Hallowe’en Down Under

rookwood-cemetery-9-of-33 It’s All Hallows’ Eve in the northern hemisphere. My own little grandgoblin is probably just finishing up trick-or-treating. Hyped up on sugar she’s giving her mom fits, dancing in circles and crying, “but I don’t wanna go to bed! Just one more piece of candy? Puhleese?”

I still can’t quite get my mind around the idea of Halloween here in Australia. Halloween is a harvest festival, one last blast before the nights get long and dark and cold. It doesn’t fit here where the nesting magpies are swooping and the the flora is in full flush and it’s just about time to hit the beaches. Halloween is a relatively new phenomenon here in ‘Straya. It’s only been in the last decade that it has started to take hold.

Which is why I was unprepared last night when I glanced out the window to see two ghoulish tots climbing the mountain of my front stoop with their plastic pumpkins, calling, “trick or treat!” I froze for a moment, dumbstruck, then ran to rummage through the cupboard looking for that package of cookies I bought to make Halloween witch cupcakes for a party I didn’t go to. I couldn’t find them and had to disappoint the little monsters. The little boy shook his finger at me and told me to do better next year. I looked at the parents and said, “I’m sorry. We were told that you all don’t trick or treat here.” “Yeah nah,” she told me, “there’s heaps that go around here.”

Last year, we were told that trick-or-treating isn’t a thing here, that some households do it, and the kids only go to houses that are decorated or to friends’ houses where it’s been prearranged. We were at a party last year, so were clueless as to what may have been happening on our street. An internet search for answers brought up a great debate between supporters and detractors, those who shamed me for disappointing the little ones, and those who made the Halloween is un-Australian Facebook page.  Apparently Halloween is growing in popularity; some point to the Americanization of Australia through social media, television, and film where Halloween shows up regularly. I did see many etiquette lists that said stick to the decorated houses if you want treats, and that if you don’t want trick-or-treaters, don’t decorate. Well that makes sense, but had me wondering if the kids mistook all the real spider webs for spooky decor. I swear I swept them down a day ago!

After the kids climbed back down the stoop, I closed the door, drew the blinds and hid in the shadowy recesses of my lolly-free house. A short while later I heard a rumbling, a great horde of children screeching, “trick or treat!” as they grew nearer.  I started shaking. I had visions of the scene in Frankenstein where the angry villagers come over the hill carrying torches, intent on mayhem.

The roar of that sugar-hungry mob reached a deafening pitch as they came closer. I cowered in the corner of my sofa, glancing over at the door, wondering if I should throw the deadbolt, latch the chain. I held my breath and peered through the blinds as they reached the front of my house. Whew! They passed by! I could breathe again. I listened to them swarm on up the block. A good fifteen minutes later I could still hear them in the distance.

I thought, “yeah little kid, I’ll remember next year. I’ll remember not to be home.” But now I kind of regret not having decorated the porch and bought heaps of lollies to hand out. One of the arguments I read in favor of the holiday was that it brings communities together, helps you get to know your neighbors. I would love to gain a reputation with the kids as the scary witch who hands out the best treats. We have been wondering how to meet more of our neighbors; I think I missed out on a great opportunity.

Hmmm…. I bet Halloween decorations are really cheap right now!

 

 

Art in the Cemetery

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Rookwood Cemetery is amazing to behold. Located in Lidcombe, historic Rookwood is the oldest and largest cemetery operating in Australia today. The cemetery was founded in 1867 as “The Necropolis at Haslem’s Creek”. Today it covers over 314 hectares and is the resting place of over a million people from 90 different religious and cultural groups.

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In the early days, the local residents of Haslem didn’t appreciate their suburb being so closely associated with the cemetery, so petitioned to change their name. According to the website, in 1878 the residents settled on the name Rookwood, for the many crows in the neighborhood. By 1913, the cemetery had once again adopted the name of the suburb where it lay, so the suburb name was changed to Lidcombe.  Rookwood stuck.

rookwood-cemetery-2-of-3           Rachel Sheree Peace in Death

Each spring, HIDDEN – A Rookwood Sculpture Walk is held at the cemetery, an opportunity for the public to experience the beauty and cultural significance of a historic site that they might not visit otherwise. The thought of the late afternoon sun falling over artwork tucked in among the gravestones being too much to resist, I grabbed my camera and took an excursion out west.

rookwood-cemetery-13-of-33George Catsi & Anne Kwasner Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep

While for the most part I’ve appreciated the ease of traveling around Sydney on public transport, there are some places that are a bit more difficult to get to. What would have been a 20 minute drive (on the left side of the road; something that still gives me a lot of anxiety) took over an hour plus three modes of transport: light rail, train, bus. Four actually, if I include the 9K I put on my feet with all my wandering from here to there. The closest bus stop was still a few blocks from the cemetery. Feeling cocky about my adventure as I hopped off the bus, I soon found myself having to backtrack almost a full lap around the block when I came up against a cement barrier blocking my access over the A3.

rookwood-cemetery-22-of-33Michael Garth Expiry Date

I was still feeling pretty jaunty when I walked through the gate and saw the big sign pointing the way toward the general office, where I was headed first to pick up my map of the art exhibit. Apparently, I hadn’t studied the website close enough, and Google maps didn’t show the “general” office, just some other buildings that I guessed were the right place and weren’t. I walked in the direction of the arrow (the direction I thought it was pointing; now I’m wondering…), until I came upon a building I hoped was the office. It was an office, a closed office and not the one I wanted. I pulled out Google maps again, hoping, and reoriented toward a different wrong building. Did I mention this cemetery is over 314 hectares? Just when I’d about given up hope of getting a map I saw another “general office” sign pointing the same way as the signs for HIDDEN. I went thataway.

rookwood-cemetery-20-of-33Adam Galea Speak with Dead

I saw the first installation and near it another camera-wielding visitor. When I inquired about the whereabouts of the general office, she pointed up the road another 200 meters, shaking her head and looking at her watch. It was five minutes past closing. This very kind woman told me she was just finishing and offered me her map. I am forever grateful to her, because I would still be wandering around lost in there, trying to find the art.

rookwood-cemetery-16-of-33Linde lvimey Bella Donna, (Deadly Night Shade)

She pointed out the section where I’d find most of the artworks, in the oldest part of the cemetery. I thanked her for her kindness and trundled off. Hot, irritable, thirsty, needing to pee, and already so very tired of walking, I juggled my camera, map, and a heavy bag slung over my shoulder. Each time I lifted the camera to take a photo, the wind blew my hair and the map into the frame. I was really wondering if any of this was worth the effort and thinking that perhaps photography isn’t my thing. I was ready to say, “fuck it” and call an Uber.

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Then the wind blew again and the spirits whispered, “no, stay.” The light was starting to take on that golden glow and was playing hide-and-seek with the shadows around the worn and crumbling graves. The tall grasses and wild flowers growing in this unkempt section of the cemetery convinced me to stop, take a breath, and continue my adventure. I had all the time in the world now. Well, until they locked the gate with me inside. Keeping that in mind, I located the next artwork.

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Making my way deeper into the quiet, forgotten areas, I felt more at peace myself. This portion of the cemetery stood in stark contrast to the gleaming granite, manicured lawns, and oft-frequented area where I had entered the grounds. Here nature was given free rein, the ravens, magpies, and butterflies the only other visitors. Now and then I’d come upon a withered bouquet left on a timeworn grave, and wonder who it was honoring their long dead ancestor. Or was it someone who pities the forgotten ones, and transplants bouquets from other areas of the necropolis?

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I wanted to sit and contemplate the artwork, the leaning headstones and toppled angels. There were no benches to sit on and I hadn’t thought to bring a blanket. I didn’t dare rest my derriere on a tumbling grave, for fear I’d tip it clean over. Or, those spirits I felt on the wind might whip through my hair, knock me down, take my breath and follow me home for interrupting their repose.

rookwood-cemetery-5-of-33Robert Hawkins The End of the Conversation

Having come to the final artwork, I decided, since I was halfway there, to continue to make my way overland to the far side of the cemetery and catch the train instead of going back to the bus. In the distance I could see a tall fence around the perimeter. Another thing I hadn’t reckoned on. Was there a gate on that side? It was getting late; I didn’t know how long it would take me to trek back to the east entrance, and my feet were starting to cry. I was beginning to feel a little panicky; I do have a fear of being locked inside creepy places, like that time at Gilgal Sculpture Garden in Salt Lake City.  My phone battery was dying, I wasn’t sure an Uber could get to this section of the cemetery, and I knew I couldn’t scale that fence, even if I wasn’t wearing a dress. I asked the local spirits to puh-leeese let me out! I’ve never been so happy to see the other side of a fence in my life.

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The HIDDEN Sculpture Walk ends on Sunday, but even without the art this cemetery is a beautiful place to visit. When I grow a pair of ovaries I’ll drive back out there, leave my camera at home, and just visit the residents.

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A Change of Season

nature - autumn (1 of 1)Peeking through the bank of native trees outside my study window, I see splotches of the red and orange of a deciduous immigrant. The sun sparkle dances off the leaves creating tongues of flame licking at the blue above. The ground beneath the trees is wet with puddles reflecting leaves and sky, remnants of the rain that pelted us over the last few days.

nature - autumn (2 of 6)According to the calendar, we’ve passed from autumn to winter here down under. The Aussies count their seasons from the first day of the month in which the equinox or solstice occurs. Yet, there are not actually only four seasons here. That’s an idea the Europeans brought with them. In fact, season is not so much a matter of calendar or even temperature as it is of other natural indicators. A couple days ago, we were bundled in wool sweaters and socks with the heater on, and yesterday I had the window open, and the scene from that window looks like autumn.

stitched wheel of the year (1 of 1)I’ve been stitching an embroidered wheel of the year, one meant to represent the seasons of both the northern and southern hemispheres. This awareness and marking of the seasons is a primary tenet of my personal spiritual practice. As I tried to force the Australian seasons to match up with the northern hemisphere round, it became clear that the seasons aren’t just flipped.

Even in the northern hemisphere, “spring” may arrive before or after the Vernal Equinox. As I chose symbols to embroider for each season, I could see how the seasons meld one into the next, and the date of the equinox or solstice wasn’t necessarily an indicator. What is spring in Texas is still winter in Utah. Of course, others will tell me that “spring” in Utah means snow. And in Colorado the locals refer to second and third winter, those heavy, wet snowfalls that cover the land then melt the next day with the return of the sun.

nature - autumn (4 of 6)As I enter my second winter here, I continue to try to wrap my mind around the idea of Australian seasons, to take my brain out of the four season European paradigm, to take a more intuitive approach. I’m learning about the seasons by marking the daily weather conditions in my calendar, and by being aware of which native trees are blooming around me as I go on my walks.

nature - autumn (6 of 6)These kind of natural indicators are how Australia’s Indigenous people have been counting the seasons for the last 50,000 years. The Aboriginal idea of seasons has traditionally been connected to food supply, need for shelter, animal behavior, and the land itself.

seasons of the year D'harawal PeopleI went on an internet search wanting to understand Australia’s seasons from the perspective of the Traditional Land Owners. I found this chart that shows we’re now in the time when the Burringoa, or Red Gum, is flowering. I’ll remember now that when the wind blows drifts of pollen into my living room it’s Tugarah Tuli.

I find nature’s cycles comforting; they ground me in place and time. Now nature tells me it’s time for cuddling on the sofa with afghans, and for baking bread and simmering pots of soup. As I watch the seasons change again and compare this June to last, I’m feeling a growing sense of familiarity in this still new-to-me land; I feel my roots reaching a bit deeper into the Australian soil.

Catching Up

Brisbane (1 of 30)I’ve become a lousy blogger. It’s true; I’ve gone from posting most every day, back in the crafty beginnings of my blog, to posting three times a week, which I thought was really slacking. Now it seems I’ve dwindled down to a few times a year.

I wrote awhile back about deciding what I want my blog to be, and I keep coming back to wanting it to be a documentation of what this journey has been. In years to come, I want to be able to look back on this and remember this crazy thing we did. I also hope it can be of help to other people who are thinking of making such a move. I haven’t been documenting very well!

Yes and no. I mean I keep a handwritten journal, and that of course has all the nitty gritty details that I don’t want to put out in cyberspace for public consumption. And that public consumption would be why I’ve not been posting. I know when we blog, we are making a choice to put ourselves out there. And we choose how much to put out there. Anyone who reads a blog and thinks that now they know a person is mistaken. There are those bloggers who over-disclose. I choose very carefully what I share; sometimes I share personal information, for example in speaking about my depression. I choose to share that because there are so many people out there who struggle with depression and who feel alone. If I can reach one person and let them know they are not alone, then that’s a good thing. I found myself in a situation though, where I felt too exposed, and the thought of blogging made me squeamish.

But you know what? I have a hard drive full of photos of beaches, kangaroos, rivers, gardens, art, historical sites, and other images of adventures we’ve been on here that I need to write about before I completely forget what they are.  So, I’m going to make a concerted effort to get back in the blogging groove.  I’ll be back with some stories of places we visited last year, and I’ll work my way up to the present. I promise. For real this time.

 

One Year’s Flown

kookaburra (1 of 1)The sidewalk was sprinkled with blossoms and the air redolent with frangipani. I was still shaking off the fog of jet lag, and absorbing the novelty of this new environment: exotic birds and flowers, new (and often incomprehensible) accents, streets filled with cafes and the delicious aroma of espresso, and the ubiquitous Vegemite, sausages, and beetroot.

As I walk along the city sidewalk, I look down and again see the frangipani blossoms. A year has passed. A year since we left everything and everyone behind to come to this strange land, to explore the world outside of what we knew.

It has been a year filled with highs and lows. Good things have happened, mostly in the form of wonderful new friendships. I’ve made good progress, both in forging a freelance career, and in immersing myself in the characters and events of the novel I’m writing. As 2015 came to a close, I finally saw my first kangaroo, and got to venture out away from Sydney somewhat, to see a little more of this country.

There were low points as well. I struggled to understand how systems work here, pulled out my hair at the lack of customer service, especially the terrors of renting. I’ve struggled with home sickness, watching from afar as my grown children faced struggles of their own, and me feeling so distant and useless to help them through. Depression, fueled by feelings of isolation, crept up on me and hit hard in October. With the support of my husband, I pulled through, counting each day I was still alive as a major success.

As summer unfurled, with explorations into this land and an influx of nature energy, along with the building of new friendships, at last I started to feel like this was a home. Over the past year, I’ve felt very transient, a feeling that began with four months of living in a practically empty house while waiting for our household goods shipment to arrive.

Our rental had many problems, from moldy ceilings and walls, to a shower that delivered a nasty shock, and property management that completely disregarded our concerns. We didn’t know if we wanted to renew the lease on this place when the time came, or look for another.

While during most hours of the day I enjoy living in Australia, and have no burning desire to live in the U.S. again, especially under the current conditions, I do know now that I have to be nearer my family. I want my grandchildren, present and future, to be able to pop over when they want to. I need my children to come over for Sunday dinner.

Knowing we’d just be packing up again, I wasn’t invested in nesting and making the space between these walls into an actual home. I wasn’t motivated to decorate anything beyond the living room, and I didn’t want to purchase anything – like an expensive stand mixer or those beautiful celadon porcelain cups at the market – that would have to be left behind or stood the possibility of breaking on an ocean voyage.

We had come to the conclusion, from talking to other renters, that moving house would likely just trade one set of problems for another. The shower shock had resolved itself at the same time that a light in the bathroom burned out. I had gotten a handle on the mold, and armed with a dehumidifier, thought I’d be able to battle the wet, cold season to come.

Having finally come to the place of accepting this as home, even if only for a couple years more, I decided I was ready to nest. So we went to IKEA and bought bookshelves. I built one, put it in the kitchen, unpacked my cookbooks and styled the shelves. I was just choosing the perfect wall spot for a photographic calendar of Scotland sent across the pond from our new friends, when we got word that our lease would not be renewed. The owner requires the unit, probably to fix all the repairs we requested and then rent it for more. We are sorely tempted to replace that light bulb.

So now we’re out looking again. So much of what is on offer in the way of rentals is hideous, with dirty worn carpets that the agencies list as “as new”, to toilets in one room and the shower in another way down the hall.

Living without a car impacts our choice of area. Completely aside from the issue of public transport, we have set up our lives here in this suburb. It’s close to our friends, Craig’s work, our doctor, the pharmacist who compounds my thyroid medicine, our favorite farmers market, and the little family owned corner market and its proprietor, Joe.

I briefly entertained the idea of moving closer to the eastern beaches, but when I thought what that meant in terms of starting over from scratch, and how far it would be from my social network and support system, I couldn’t face it, ocean or no ocean.

We are waiting now, to hear if we’ve been approved for a lovely townhouse in a quiet, tree-lined neighborhood, close to public transport. We should have heard by now and my mind is tempted to fill with negative thoughts. I’m trying to visualize us in that house, with the gleaming wooden floors and the (almost) normal size oven, and most of all, that little room upstairs with a window looking out on the leafy street, where I can sit and write. I’m ready to get started on our second year in this still strange land that I grow to love more and more every day.

The River City of Brisbane

Brisbane (5 of 30)Story Bridge

After two months shy of a year living in Sydney, we finally got to travel to another region of the country. True, Craig has been down to Melbourne on one occasion, but he was working, and didn’t see any of the city. This time, on another business trip, I tagged along for a visit to Brisbane. Why had no one told me about this gem?

Brisbane (1 of 2)The Old Windmill

Approaching Brisbane by air, I looked out to see vast swaths of green, forested areas, interrupted here and there with a small clearing containing a swimming pool. The blue-polka-dotted fabric of green made me laugh. As we stepped directly off the plane into Brisbane, the first impression was an oven blast of heat and humidity, but during a quick taxi ride to the hotel I already became enamored with the city. After depositing our bags, we set off to explore.

Brisbane (25 of 30)The ceiling of the Regent Theatre

The capital city of Queensland, Brisbane is nestled in the hills and valleys of the winding Brisbane River, named in 1823 after the governor of New South Wales, Thomas Brisbane. We hopped aboard the City Hopper, the free ferry that loops the river bends of the city. The site of today’s Brisbane began as a penal colony from 1824 to house the worst offenders of the Sydney convicts, until 1842 when the Moreton Bay area became a free settlement.

Brisbane (15 of 30)Air Raid Shelter

Aboard the ferry, on our way to a free concert at South Bank Parklands, we were waylaid by a big storm that came through. The ferry moored to wait it out and we enjoyed the light show and the cool wind. Later we heard that 100,000 lightning strikes were recorded by Energex, the local energy provider. The storm quieted and we disembarked at South Bank, too late and too wet for a concert. What I discovered there, though, was worth it. Epicurious Gardens is a gorgeous produce garden, dedicated to teaching the public what real food looks like. They even make the harvest available to the public. What thrilled me about this was being about to see what the new White’s Creek Community Food Forest and Orchard, that I wrote about a few months ago, will be once it is established.

Brisbane (2 of 2)South Bank Parklands

On Monday, I took advantage of the Brisbane Greeters program. It’s a free service in which a volunteer takes a group on a 2-4 hour tour of the city. Our volunteer tour guide, Coral, gave us a wonderful overview of what the city has to offer, from gardens to historical sites. She was a wealth of interesting information, and I made a list of places to return to for extended visits.

Brisbane (9 of 30)Splashing pools at South Bank

Back on South Bank, I visited Queensland Museum, Queensland Art Gallery, and the Gallery of Modern Art. I barely touched on any of them. There was so much to see, and I found myself frustrated with my lack of stamina. I wanted to keep going all day, to see every single exhibit.

Brisbane (12 of 30)Queensland Art Gallery

On our final day there, I visited the Roma Street Parklands, the Brisbane City Botanic Gardens, the Regency Theatre, and City Hall. There was still so much more to see. The city is a beautiful blend of old and new, with new modern architecture built around the older stone buildings, and the very present history sitting side by side with the vibrance that is today’s Brisbane. I intend to go back!

Brisbane (3 of 6)City Hall
Brisbane (4 of 6)The former Regent Theatre, now the visitor center

Homeground

Homeground (3 of 6)After ten months with an Antipodean address, it feels like I’ve finally landed in Australia. Sydney is a city similar to so many other cities in the world. Much like airports, cities each have their flavor, but apart from the predominate language you hear, it’s hard to tell where you are in the world. All the cities have tall buildings, people rushing in a swift current down the sidewalks, bumper to bumper traffic honking like so many geese. For the moment, I am able to block out all that and focus on the mud stripes, the pale handprints on brown skin, and be transported to a time when what mattered was a people’s connection to the Earth, to nature and her rhythms.

Homeground (1 of 6)A line of men striped with mud paint, the colors of Earth, skin and soil (we all make up Earth in our varied palettes of brown) stand like a held breath, ready to leap into the sand circle. They are followed by the women draped in fur cloaks. Is that kangaroo? The low vibrating sounds of the didgeridoo call the Waang Djarii dancers forth, to dance the memories of the elders passed down over thousands of years. I’m at Homeground, a celebration of First Nations music and dance, taking place outside the Sydney Opera House. Five troupes of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander dancers have come to compete for a grand prize of $15,000.

At the start I am distracted, held back from flowing into the dance, by the negativity surrounding me in the present. To my left, a man is annoyed at being asked to move back from the circle, and by the invasion of his personal space by others who are stepping past him. To my right, a woman is angry at another who sat in front of her in the space where we were told not to sit. She is shooting nasty epithets under her breath and making threats. I want to reach over and wrap my arms around this woman, pull her close to me and coo in her ear, “there, there. It’s ok. Let it go.” I’m afraid of having her vitriol turned on me.

I imagine how the woman in front may feel. She’s thrilled to have scored a front row seat for herself and her daughter. Then, hearing the hate being spewed from behind her, she fills with doubt and unease, wondering if she’s committed a social faux pas but not exactly sure. If she were to get up now, that would create a commotion in itself, and she’d have to go to the far back, behind the crowd, where her little daughter would have no chance of seeing the dancers. Maybe there is a thread of ancestry there, an inheritance she wants to share with the girl, and so she chooses to block out the nastiness.

Homeground (2 of 6)As the Waang Djarii dance, the woman beside me quiets, turning her focus to the dancers. The women are waving branches of gum leaves, cleansing the space. As women it seems this is our sacred role through the ages. I’m not talking about housework, but of creating sacred space, in whatever form that may take. We do it as we nest and create homes and care for our families.

Homeground (1 of 7)The next group are the Djaadjawan dancers from Yuin Country. As these eight women dance their dance of healing, I continue to think of the connectedness of all humankind. I imagine their healing being channeled out to the wide world, to Paris, Beirut, and Nigeria, to the Syrian refugees and all those people so full of fear that they want to block their borders, and to the angry people on either side of me, afraid of people invading their space and taking what they believe is rightfully theirs.

Homeground (2 of 7)The women are beautiful, their faces, arms and legs, even their hair, striped in terra cotta and white mud. They are dancing the sacred feminine, they are the Wild Witch, the Blessed Mother, that same image that came to me on a mountain top in Utah, as we danced the Autumn Equinox, that petroglyph from the Fremont People, of the woman holding the spiral wheel. There was a time when all of our ancestors danced the spiral. The women before me now are dancing a continuous thread woven across the fabric of fifty thousand years. Me, I’m picking up dropped threads of an unraveled tapestry.

Homeground (3 of 7)Now Yuin Ghoodjarga from Koomurri Nation slither into the circle. Their bodies painted with red and white stripes snaking over their chests and circling their forearms and calves, the young men send their electric current into the crowd.

Homeground (5 of 7)The chanting voice at the microphone sings them through the metamorphosis from death adder, to kangaroo, to black duck.

Homeground (4 of 6)Thika Billa from the Wiradjuri region, with their scarified chests painted in traditional orange symbols leap into the circle. They become kangaroos, jumping, scratching, frolicking, and nibbling on gum leaves.

Homeground (6 of 7)The final group, Naygayiw Gigi from the Torres Strait Islands are a force of nature themselves.

Homeground (5 of 6)Grass skirted warriors blowing on conch shells, flourishing sticks and bows and arrows dominate the space with a sharp flick of their white feathered headdresses.

Homeground (6 of 6)The women then fill the circle with a joyous exuberance, wearing the same grass skirts, cowrie shells circling their heads, and carrying woven baskets that look like a summer handbag. This group steals the show with their spectacular performance, taking away the big check.

Watching these groups perform, even as my mind follows many threads of what our world is enduring today, I’m filled with hope for all of humanity. I feel a sense of awe at the power of human culture to endure. These people here today sharing their culture with us have held on to ancient traditions. They represent the oldest continuing, adaptive culture on earth. That is such an amazing and glorious thing! They have refused and still refuse to let their culture be killed off. They have survived the great white scourge. If they can do that, can’t we all together survive a handful of terrorists? I just keep thinking about how in the big scheme of things, we’re all in this together. We all belong to the human tribe. I wish we could all join the dance.

Hiding from the Heat and Dreaming of the Sea

A heat wave has hit, and I’m cowering in the shadows with the shades drawn, grateful that our home tends toward the cool.  I dislike hot weather, although I do handle it better than I did back when I had actual hormones coursing through my body, heating things up. I have to go start closing windows here, shortly, to hold back the heat. Air-conditioning is something we left behind in the U.S. Mostly it’s unnecessary. Perhaps even more than heat, I hate being closed up, so I don’t miss the A.C. too much. Yet.

After reading about how we just had the hottest October on record, worldwide, and 2015 looking to be the hottest year, I’m actually quite frightened. I lean more toward The Day After Tomorrow version of the end. You can always put on another sweater, but there are only so many clothes you can take off in public before getting arrested. Besides, I hear that hypothermia is one of the more pleasant ways to expire.

Even without the excess heat, it’s odd to see Christmas decorations and hear Frosty the Snowman playing in the Queen Victoria Building. We’re joining some other American immigrants next week for Thanksgiving dinner. I really hope it’s not too hot to bake the pies I’m in charge of. In a “we’re not in Kansas anymore” moment, it finally occurred to me that my husband doesn’t automatically get next Thursday off.

~

I’ve fallen behind on beach photos, so here ya go!

Collins Flats (1 of 1)

Several weeks ago, we visited Collins Flat beach, over on the harbor side of Manly. I have to say, that while we did manage to have a relaxing afternoon, I wasn’t impressed. The beach was somewhat littered, and the water smelled like fuel from the boats. Hmmm.  Not what I want on my skin, thank you. There are also no restrooms here. I think that only encourages people to pee in the water, something else I don’t want on my skin.

Manly (6 of 56)It was fun to watch the ice cream boat come in! Perhaps it would have been even more fun to eat ice cream, but I think we were attempting to be healthy that day. It didn’t last long, if I remember right; I think we stopped for burgers and beer on our way back to the ferry.

Manly (5 of 56)It’s always fun to watch the little ones! They don’t have to worry about catastrophic climate change yet.

Manly (4 of 56)I couldn’t watch these guys, though. I was sure someone was going to break their neck.

Manly (3 of 56)Don’t you wonder what people’s stories are? I hope those bruises came from learning to surf or extreme tango.

Manly (1 of 56)I like rocks. Massive rocks that say, “I am the Earth! I am your mother! Why do you kids have to cause so much trouble? I brought you into this world and I’ll take you out.”

 

Warning: Some viewers may find the following post long and winding

Over the course of the past 9 months, I’ve gone back and forth about what I want this blog to be. Is it merely a travelogue? Is it about the everyday reality of ex-patting, a word one of my American friends used the other day? (I looked it up on Urban Dictionary. It’s a verb. “v: Expatting, to expat. The act of moving to another country for the purpose of building a better life or a more fulfilling career.”)

When writing a blog, there is a fine line between telling one’s truth and over-disclosing. I find I’ve been going in the far opposite direction, only choosing to show the pretty bits. But that is not an authentic representation of what this experience is. Living in Australia is not all beautiful beaches and interesting flora and fauna. There is a danger, I believe, in thinking that when you move to another country, everything is going to be wonderful. Logic mind may tell you otherwise, but that magical thinking part of the brain thinks logic mind is full of shit.

First there is the issue of “wherever you are, there you are”. Any personal issues you had in your home country are going to be part of the baggage you check. My own issues with depression, while they remained unpacked for awhile, have made an appearance. Being so far away from everything and everyone familiar has made dealing with the depression more of a challenge.

Aside from the personal baggage you bring, there are minor inconveniences and adjustments, things no one tells you about before you arrive. For instance, I really wish I’d gotten in better shape before coming. While I actually love not having to worry about a car or driving, the amount of walking I do in a day quadrupled upon arrival here. While the rest of my body adapted fairly quickly, my feet struggled with it, and still do occasionally. I had severe pain in my feet for the first couple months. I learned that a quality walking shoe was imperative, even if it wasn’t fashionable. As I watch the fashion plates that are young Aussie women running around the city center in their towering heels, I lament the probability that I’ll never again be able to wear heels. My feet have also increased in size since arriving. I don’t know if that’s all the walking made them spread, or they’re just always swollen.

Depending on public transport is, for the most part, a relief from driving and the costs and tedium involved in owning a car. It’s fairly dependable; still it’s always good to allow extra time for busses that never show up if you have an appointment. We can walk out our front door and get most anywhere we want to go. While it takes only a few minutes to get into the city center, whether by bus or ferry, it does take quite awhile to get to any other area. That’s mostly because of where we chose to live. If we were closer to a train station, it would be different. So that has been an adjustment. When I start to fret, I just remember that when I lived in Dallas a million years ago, it would take an hour to travel what should have taken twenty minutes without traffic. There are some places that public transport doesn’t go to, like the Ku-Ring-Gai National Park, and we can’t very well go looking for kangaroo from a bus.

The whole issue surrounding material objects has been a learning experience. Letting go of most of our belongings was hard. Still, now that I look around at what we brought, I wish we’d stored more of it at home. When we came, we didn’t have a good idea of how long we’d be here. Then, we were open to the idea of extending our visa, staying longer than three years, and so brought what we thought we might need. Now, when I contemplate replacing items we didn’t bring, I think of how I don’t want to pay to ship it back (because now I intend to go back sooner rather than later), and if it’s anything that runs on current, it will have to stay here.

Not having what I need at my fingertips has been a frustration. There are so many little things like gardening gloves or a box to mail something, that I used to have lying around. Now it’s not only an effort to go source these items, everything costs so much more than I expect. When we first arrived, and I had only had a quick look around, I thought prices were comparable. That was before I started trying to replace necessary items.

Quality is also hard to find. I went to the local craft store to find a plastic, compartmented box to hold my crafty supplies. They had one style and it cost $45 on sale. The lid wouldn’t stay on long enough to get to the bus stop. I debated taking it back, but knew that was about as good as I was going to find for less than $100, so decided to make do. That kind of sucks.

Language issues also pop up when I’m on the hunt for stuff. I went out the other day, looking for index cards. I’m in the process of writing a novel and want cards to keep track of notes and research. They aren’t called index cards here and I had no idea what they were called. Trying to explain what I wanted and why was an exercise in not losing my cool. You can’t just go to a grocery store and pick up a pack like you can in the U.S. The office supply store I went to didn’t even sell them. I had to go to a news agency, the place you buy magazines and newspapers.

Language can be fun, too. An electrician is a sparky. That just makes me happy for some reason. Tall, good looking sparkies make me happy too, but I can’t write that here in case my husband reads this.

Another adjustment comes in the form of customer service. The idea we have in the U.S. of “the customer is always right” doesn’t exist here. In most of the smaller shops I’ve had a wonderful experience; the people are lovely and so happy to have you in their shop. It’s in the bigger institutions that the trouble starts, specifically with rentals. Housing is so competitive here, that the property managers and owners pretty much have you over a barrel.

Since moving into our place, we’ve struggled with rain pouring down the walls, a horrific mold infestation, a random man that shows up in our locked courtyard once a week, and an ongoing, really frightening problem of experiencing an electric shock while showering. The property management’s response to all of this is, “it’s not happening. We’ve managed this property for twenty years and this has never been a problem before, therefore it must not be a problem now.”

When we first signed up for internet, the provider decided to change my husband’s name to Neil. They refused to change it to his correct name unless he brought his passport to the “customer service” department. After spending over an hour with them, trying to prove he was Craig, not Neil, they still didn’t change it. They kept mailing equipment to our house, but delivery required Neil’s signature and it had to be checked against his I.D.

The biggest issue I’ve faced in coming here has been isolation. Being a writer means I spend a lot of time alone, without the benefit of workmates, and making Aussie friends has proven to be difficult. When we first came, I purposely did not join any ex-pat groups. I didn’t want to isolate myself within the American ex-pat community; I wanted to assimilate. That’s a lot harder to do than you’d think. From what I’ve observed and from what I hear from the ex-pats I have gravitated to, it seems to be an issue of both culture and my age group.

Culturally, Australians tend toward a very friendly, gregarious personality, and socializing is a major past-time. They’ll strike up a conversation at the bus stop, and when we see familiar faces at the farmers market, they’re keen to chat, but more formal socializing is generally kept within an established group that they’ve known all their lives, and seems to be centered around family groups.

Age-wise, I’ve looked into various meet-up groups and they tend to be geared to or dominated by young people. There is a local community center that I thought might be an option. All the programming is for senior citizens. I feel lost and invisible in the middle of all this. I think it’s important to associate with people of all age groups, but I do want all the age groups represented. I think the young people would be just as uncomfortable with me there as I would be, and I don’t have the proper card yet to join the senior citizen groups.

The cost of everything adds to the isolation. It makes it hard to go places and see things. I end up feeling trapped at home, which in turn contributes to the depression. If I go back to that Urban dictionary definition – “The act of moving to another country for the purpose of building a better life” – from a financial aspect, our quality of life has decreased, especially since the Aussie dollar has dropped 30% since we came (it’s not our fault!)

If I look at life quality from a non-material point of view, it’s improved. I’m more active, partly out of necessity (no car) and also because there is so much to see and do. In the U.S. I didn’t feel an urgency to do touristy things, and as a result, I left there not ever having seen the Grand Canyon or Yellowstone Park, even though each were less than a nine hour drive away. Because I have a timeline here, I’m out exploring as much as I can on the budget. When we do go out to eat, there is more ready access to good food, and we have quick and easy access to natural places.

The second part of the definition, about building a more fulfilling career, definitely rings true. If not for this complete upset of the status quo, I don’t know if I would have been able to focus enough to build my writing career. Back in Utah, I was too distracted by my zillions of craft projects and the upkeep of house and garden; add in the bone deep inertia I’d cultivated, and I wasn’t ever going to succeed. Since being here, I’ve made great strides forward in both my freelance business and in my fiction writing.

Even through the tough parts, I do not regret coming here, and I am definitely not ready to go back just yet. Friend and family connections will eventually take me back to the U.S. and when I go, I’ll miss Australia and the friends I’ve made here. This place, for all its frustrating bits, is a beautiful and wild country, full of beautiful people, and I’m told there are even kangaroos.

Wandering Sydney CBD

rockpool bar and grill and cbd (10 of 11)Often on a Friday afternoon, I like to journey into the city for a shot of vitality. Sydney’s personality is vivacious; you can feel the energy flow up and down the sidewalks with the rush of people. It’s a bit of caffeine for my soul. And the tall buildings give me the same grounded feeling that I got from mountains in the western U.S.

rockpool bar and grill and cbd (4 of 11)I met up with a photographer friend. She had some specific shots she needed, so we headed over to the Rockpool Bar & Grill for a glass of wine. I thought, bar and grill, ok, that probably fits my budget.

rockpool bar and grill and cbd (3 of 11)Upon entering, it was immediately obvious that I was not in my element. I felt really out of place in my $3 off-the-sale-rack Kohl’s dress, as all the other women were wearing the Sydney uniform of black dress with black high heeled ankle booties.

rockpool bar and grill and cbd (1 of 11)They have rules for behavior in the front of the menu book. Luckily, since I’m not a gentleman, I didn’t feel the need to behave.

rockpool bar and grill and cbd (2 of 11)These chicken wings were icky, but I don’t like chicken wings, so my opinion doesn’t count there. The ginger sauce on them smelled good. The wine was $16 for the cheapest glass. I checked, and that’s about what a bottle of the same wine would have cost at the bottle shop. I guess I’m just not an uptown girl!

rockpool bar and grill and cbd (1 of 2)The building itself and the decor was exquisite.

rockpool bar and grill and cbd (6 of 11)The restaurant is housed in the City Mutual Building, built in 1936, and designed by architect Emil Sodersten. It is heritage listed because of it’s art deco style, and when constructed, was the city’s tallest skyscraper.

The beauty of the architecture helped me to forget my discomfort at being under-dressed. I enjoyed the wine and the company. All in all, it was a good visit to the city.