From the moment I set foot on Australian soil I felt the difference. Opposite to New Zealand it’s much more going on. And while flying from Sydney to Cairns I enjoyed the breath taking view along the coast line.
As usual I got picked up from the airport and during a one hour drive to Port Douglas I accustomed quickly to the tropical warmth. The pittoresk landscape was pure relaxation for my tired eyes and when the green trees abruptly changed into palm trees it was obvious we just had entered the tropical part of the country. With three months ahead of me I got happier by the minute. The house owner and his wife were about to leave in a view days for a round trip through India. Enough time though to get to know each other a bit and seize up the area.
I’d arrived with a two hour delay, so after they showed me my room and bathroom I’d a quick shower, changed cloth and out we were again for a night of Aboriginal culture. In the elementary school where the wife worked as teacher aid the Aborigine language was implemented as a regular course again. This was a memorable event because this primary school was the very first in all Queensland. A perfect event for me and at the same time shows the advantage of being a house sitter because you really get into the daily life of the countries inhabitants. So I was more than happy when they asked me to join them. And what an interesting evening it turned out to be. Traditional dance performances from different age groups, speeches, as well as a mixture of Aussie and Aboriginal food was prepared and served free of charge. Among other things a huge canvas was hung up to create a hand painting. Everybody could dive a hand into blue, red, yellow or pink colour just to make an imprint on the canvas so that at the end there were lots of hand prints in different colours, angles and shapes. As you can imagine a must do for me. I chose pink for my left hand to immortalize it. I guess my hand was the only hand of a foreigner to that school and surely the only German hand on the whole canvas. Makes the whole action even more special to me and with a big grin on my face I dipped my hand into a bucket with pink colour and then quickly walked to the canvas. And while pressing my hand firmly on the sheet I thought how easy it is to make history..haha.
After that we settled under one of the sun tents, which were built around the stage. Before the program started an Aborigine medicine man walked through the audience a smoking kind of kettle in his hands with special herbs to clean and bless all people. Just arrived from New Zealand I instantly realized the differences between the two countries and how the native cultures are respected and are lived – or not for that matter – in the society. While Maori language is part of the NZ culture and daily life, Aborigine language is just about to make a revival. And while the Maoris descent from Pacific Islands and known for their fighting spirit (e.g. Hakka dance); the indigenous people from Australia are deeply rooted into the land and nature. I understood that Australian indigenous history is about 400 years old and that they still have a hard stand in society, mainly schooling and social matters and – sad but true – in the acceptance between Aborigines and white Australians. In fact the prime minister of Australia apologized in a speech in 2018 for the first time to the Aborigines. In NZ – from what I understood – the Maoris tribes are widely accepted, have their own holy places and have a say in politics. The Maori New Year is celebrated throughout New Zealand and the all New Zealanders are aware of their shared roots. So that first evening in ‘down under’ was quite exciting and I learned a lot, even met an Aborigine chief in person and had a brief chat. In which I got the impression that Aborigines are calm in their attitude (like nature!), almost a bit cautious when approached.
The next day I got a tour throughout the house and with no animals to take care of there was not much tasks. Only lawn mowing, checking the pool and tide up the garden supplies in case a storm warning was given. That left the owner and me with plenty of time to drive around and discover the area.
First we drove to Flagstaff Hill a observation deck and I learnt that I am 14629 km away from my birthplace Frankfurt am Main in Germany. That same day we also visited the Saturday market in Port Douglas where you can find lots of tropical fruit and small booths from locals with all kind of (mostly handmade and organic) stuff.
The next day we visited ‘Mossman gorge’ one of the tourist attractions and one of the rare but successful community project in which young Aborigines have a chance to follow an education and/or start to work in the park. And while listening to all the facts and history the owner told me, a strange feeling overcame me, as if I would be set back in ancient times when the ‘white’ people domesticated the indigenous. OK, just a feeling and it vanished quickly as we started our walk through the – almost – untouched jungle. Surrounded by the sound of birds, insects and huge trees we walked to a spot where the river was clear and safe to enjoy a quick swim. Crystal clear water full of little fishes and tiny turtles, the sun high in the sky just another wonder of nature and once again I realized that we’re all just visitors on this wonderful planet called earth.
Every day – we had 5 days together in total – he introduced me to another friend or neighbour of his. So many, that as they finally had left, I couldn’t even remember who was who and how many hands I had shaken. And while I sometimes was overwhelmed by all those chit chats and meeting his friends, I quickly learned why he did that and its importance.
The night before there had been heavy rains. Compared with NZ here the storms have pretty intense thunder and I woke up thinking the roof above me probably collapse every moment. But this was just a ‘relatively’ normal rainfall as I got told the next morning, considering that it was the start of the rainy season. And the rain season always held a chance of cyclones which I was about to discover. But here I’ve a question for you. What’s the difference between a cyclone and a hurricane? Ha, I see you thinking. I didn’t know as one of my European friends asked me. My thought was it’s just another name for it. Nope, that’s not right. Do you know or did you look it up on the internet? Well, let me enlighten you. A cyclone circles left, what means if it comes from the sea it drags everything with it out into the open. And a hurricane circles right and that – of course – means all the debris and ocean waters flooding the land. Interesting isn’t it?
Ok, back to the story. A few days into my house sit another heavy thunder storm destroyed a parasol in the garden and lots of palm leaves were spread all over the place. I cleaned the garden but didn’t have the strength to lift that parasol and pull it away. One of the families I got introduced to and which I became really close and related to was Tony, his wife Joyce and their son Leah. I walked over and asked Tony if he can help me to take away that huge parasol and without hesitation he and Leigh walked over with me right away. I then realized that all those introductions had been for a reason. Mossman – the next village – was five kilometres away and that meant one really need and rely on the goodwill of your neighbours. So it’s very essential that you keep good relations with them and also that they naturally look after each other in a friendly and caring way. As a city child and traveller I am use to be on my own so first I got a bit irritated. It felt as a bit like the song ‘Somebody’s watching me’, especially after they all came by after that thunderstorm to see if I am alright. It started with Tony and Leah, then Glenn and Toji as well as Debby who called me. I got the feeling as if I were a tiny farm store and people passed by to assure the store is still running. I guess it was just a bit too much attention for me. And when asked: ‘Are you alright?’, I only lifted my shoulders in an ‘I don’t know what you mean’ way, answering that everything is fine, thank you for dropping by and have nice day! Still wondering if this was normal or more so because I am a house sitter? And then the first cyclone warning was aired and that meant for me I’d to clean up and take away all things from outside. Well, no joke this took me four hours straight to take away the BBQ, garden tables, chairs, TV, plants and plenty of small items people usually let lying around. And that’s all right because it’s the tropics and with an average of thirty-something degrees of course you live mostly outside. So I did my best but that sun shield covering the pool was just too big for me. Again, I asked Tony and Leah if they can help me with it. Funnily I got a feeling to give something back in a way and started thinking what this might can be. Again they all kept coming asking if I have enough gallons of water, cans with food, candles or a flashlight in house, because if the cyclone hits hard, electricity and water can be cut off easily for several days. As well as the road to Mossman usually is flooded and barely usable. At that point I only had a push bike (Aussie for bicycle) to my usage so no chance to go anywhere! Debbie even offered me to ‘sit out the cyclone’ at her place so that I am not alone. How nice considering that we just had met. I am not worried at all I said when asked, because I am protected by angels and the universe. Well, by then I guessed all of them had realized that I am a bit ‘different’ or let’s say ‘having my own view on life’, so they all just smiled. What can I say, that cyclone cycled all around Mossman but didn’t hit us. I knew that but what can I say? I just know that the universe is with me when on travel and always protects me. Sounds strange I know but that’s just it.
After that cyclone Debby and I saw each other more often and we decided to go running in the morning. She before work and because of the heat we met at 6:30 am. But it rained most of the time and we got wet all the time. One morning she suggested “If we get wet all the time anyways, we rather can go to the pool in Mossman doing some laps’. Ok let’s do that I answered. I don’t care much what I am doing as long as I keep on moving. Only that we went one time and then I got throat pain, next Debby got hitched with some cold, so our intentions to stay active were high but ‘circumstances’ failed on us! But hey, the intention is what counts right?
The week before Christmas Debbie mentioned a concert, kind of a Christmas choir thing. Sure good thing to do, especially because Debbie was part of another choir which also performed that night and I like to sing myself. It really was a nice performance with a couple from New York – family of the lady who lead the choir – which performed some famous Opera songs and other pieces. Then came the break and I had just lined up for the restroom when I saw Joy the wife of Tony’s, the neighbour you remember? I grinned and waved, she waved back and I decided to have a quick chat before relieving myself. My idea was to visit them the next day and bring a bottle of whisky as we had talked about earlier and as Thank you for Tony and Leigh because they had helped me so much already. So I got close and said: “Hi, didn’t know that you were coming too. I thought to come over tomorrow evening, right?” She looked surprised at me and answered: “Oh, we’re going on vacation tomorrow.” Slightly confused but not changing the expression on my face I thought, did she not tell me that I can come over on Boxing Day? And while I still wondered, her husband joined us and then it hit me. This wasn’t Joyce, this was another couple I have been introduced to and I remembered we’d been for dinner once. Oops, I thought these ladies really are kind of look alike. Luckily Debbie did know Janette as well – that was her name – and so I kept smiling. Debbie not knowing about my mistake just started chatting with them and we ended up with another invitation for dinner at their house the next week. We laughed and waved and I quickly headed to the restroom before the break was over. Later on the way home I told Debbie about me being mistaken and we had a big laugh saying this is how you get yourself an invitation for supper. Well, it turned out just fine and we were enjoying a healthy and tasty BBQ at their really high end up to date estate.
Another few weeks later I realized that cycling to Mossman was only possible in the early morning hours because of the heat. After 11 am the sun is too strong and cycling on a road with no shadow not really an option. Beside that I couldn’t really do proper shopping with no bags and only a tiny basket on the steer wheel. Of course all the people I had contact with offered me to go with them and do my shopping but it’s just not the same and I felt a bit restricted in my freedom. Good learning though because never again I agree to ‘remote’ house sits, without a car included. So I pretty much was stuck on the property with not much to do other than hanging out in the pool and sitting on the spacy terrace. I started reading one book after the other until the day Debbie offered me to drive their spare car. A Toyota automatic they barely used and they both felt that having a car in that area is more a necessity than a luxury. Which truly it is and it made my time there much more worthwhile. I parked the car next to the car of the owner what he refused to lend me because he thought Europeans cannot drive! Oops, kind of embarrassing (for the owner) and judgemental I’d say. And maybe some house sitters would have been insulted (with all right). But after being a house sitter for almost two years now, I guess I’ve developed a ‘deaf ear’ when it comes to unqualified remarks of house owners!
With Christmas around the corner and not much on my agenda I happily accept an invitation for BBQ on Christmas Eve hosted by Glenn and Toji. On Boxing Day that whisky night with Tony, Joyce and Leah and another BBQ evening a week later at Debbie and Stevie’s house. And of course the scheduled what’s app and Skype calls with my family and friends in Europe I was all busy I thought the morning of Christmas day. And while scrolling through my agenda I giggled because as a ‘not attached to any religion made by mankind’ type of person, I usually do not celebrate any of these occasions. To my surprise it all turned out to be more of just hanging out with likewise people. The typical European drama around Christmas I couldn’t find and it was just great.
Anyways, on Christmas day I just had finished breakfast another knock on my door. I opened and locked at a friendly elderly woman her husband aback in the car. ‘Hello Monika’ she said and then, ‘We just passed and thought to invite you for dinner, because it’s Christmas day and you’re all alone’. Who are they and where do they knew me from? I had no memory but the lady interpreted my confused expression well and said ‘You remember we’re the neighbours from around the corner with the bees and red berries’. Oh, yeah sure I answered, and apologized for not recognizing them right away. Luckily they weren’t insulted and understood that it has been a lot of people and impressions I had to deal with during those first days. So I thanked friendly and explained that I’d plans already, but promised to visit another day. And as a woman of my word I sure did. One morning I was on my way to Mossman I stopped at their house and we sat down for a coffee. For about two hours we had a very interesting conversation about differences of societies and local Aussie topics. Conclusion, it really doesn’t matter what country I am. The general topics of society are always and I really mean ALWAYS the same. Nevertheless it is surely interesting to learn about local matters and hear opinions of folks that life there.
The holiday season went over in a flung and ended with the whisky party at Tony’s place. I so drunken that Leah had to escort me home. Remember ‘home’ was just opposite of the street, so you can imagine how drunken I’ve been, but what a party. I guess it’s safe to say that we all really enjoyed that night.
The second month and a new year the rainy season was in full blow. Debbie and I meanwhile had regular contact. After our first failed attempt to do some sports we decided to try some Yoga instead. Me telling her, that I’d visited a class in New Zealand whereof she answered that she had some pretty good videos downloaded from a professional yoga website. And so we did yoga (separated but at the same time) and did go to another choir class before we decided to drop that. Mostly because the upcoming concert they rehearsed for wasn’t so much our thing. And we had discovered another thing we have in common ‘writing’ and so we had more fun to meet and share ideas on that matter. Time flew by and by the time my third month rolled in, the rainy days were less and it finally was tropical warm again. 34 degrees on average and that means limiting activities as much as possible. My preferred activity is hanging on the beach under a tree or parasol, doing nothing but watching the waves (and people) and jump into the refreshing water every so often.
That however isn’t really an option in Queensland (and I guess for the most part in Australia) because of the crocs and stingers (very tiny jellyfish but highly poison). Too bad with only a five minute walk away from the, but going there and hang out in the sand isn’t really what people do here. Ok, if you dare to or be a risk taker, then may you don’t care when only your tongs (Aussie for flip flops) is what people will find left of you the next day. Going to a creek is the thing most folks do but you’ve to know where you can go (tiny sand banks, shallow clear water). As soon as the water gets deeper you almost can be sure there are crocs looking for lunch or dinner! That explains why most people have a pool or let say if they can afford it. Another difference to other islands and countries is that it is mandatory by law to have a fence around the pool. Funny because most pools are not that deep let’s say about 1.20m or so. Interesting when knowing that most foreign people think about Australia as a land of freedom but that’s a bit of a myth I guess. From what I experienced there are a lot of rules (spoken or unspoken) and people are very willing to follow up with them.
And for the first time in all the years – or better decades – I travel, I had the feeling being on my own limited me in exploring the country. I mean I don’t like to go on tourist trips rather hop in the car and see what shows up on my way. But this isn’t such a good idea in Australia. So as a result I much enjoyed the area around Mossman, the stillness and pure nature.
You know when you travel most of your life sooner or later you realize that nature is great everywhere and cities are usually too crowded these days. It really doesn’t matter if you see the parrot fish in the Caribbean or anywhere else, if you snorkel or dive into yet another ocean to visit another shipwreck or joining a sunset sail. Or going for a jeep safari around the place it always is sandy, mountains, sea a BBQ or snack and that’s it. At the end of the day it’s always the same sun and the same (full) moon you look at when sitting on a beach and watching the stars. The most shooting stars- 3 in one night – I saw on my most favourite island Aruba in 2017. Woods and jungle are not much different. Like riding on a camel in the desert, sure it is a fun thing to do but once done you won’t come back to do it again right? Insects and animals surely differ and population changes from country to country, but as part of the human species for me it’s always about the fellow humans I meet.
My last week had arrived and on my agenda – next to cleaning and packing – was that I wanted to drop by those who had become friends. And as well as in New Zealand and from the bottom of my heart I want to thank Debbie and Steve for taking me to a trip into the outback’s on my last da. And while others never get a chance to see some of the unique Australian species, we were so lucky to see a dingo, kangaroos, and the native horses (well, I forgot the name because I am 50 now..haha) and some black birds all in one day, incredible (note: a tour to the outback’s really should be a ‘must do’ for every visitor) and of course that they trusted me with their car.
Glenn and Toji for the best Christmas Eve I had in years (my first BBQ on Christmas and I cannot find the photograph anymore..uh), the good talks we had when sitting on your terrace drinking your extremely tasty fresh water and that you wasted your time to look after that ‘questionable’ order after I had left.
And last but not least I want to say Thanks to Tony, Joy, Leah and Jeddah (I am pretty sure the spelling is wrong, but she really is the sweetest dog I ever met) for welcome me so warmly into your family. Tony for all your help with the pool, big palm leaves. Joy for the delicious meals you always shared with me when I dropped by unannounced and our special women connection..smile. And Leah for your company (I realized too late that we had a ‘unique’ connection) and – not to forget – our fun evenings and the farewell BBQ.
Without each of you my time in your wonderful country wouldn’t have been the same thank you all again for sharing your time with me. I hope I’ve touched your lives as much as you have touched mine.
On my day of departure I shared a last cup of coffee with Leah before returning back the car and Debbie and Steve drove me to Cairns airport.
And while waiting in the line to check in my luggage, I thought about the saying ‘every travel changes a person’ and prepare myself for a 29 hour flight back to busy Europe as a different person.
Coming up: Three months five different places!