‘WHY DID YOU DECIDE TO MOVE TO AUSTRALIA?’
The above question was directed at me by a Dutch girl on the shuttle bus that was taking uspective hostels. I was naively unprepared for the question. ‘I’m 30’, I offered, ‘If I don’t do it now, I’ll never be able to’. It was half true and it was appropriate for the setting. I didn’t want to make things awkward.
That particular question has come up many times since that day and even now I struggle to answer it. Up until a few months before I came to Australia I’d never been interested in moving to the other side of the world. I was more focussed on creative projects or furthering my career in London. The truth is that when my brother passed away in 2015, I was left with a very modest amount of money that enabled me to afford to do something that I’d never have been able to afford on my wage in London. My brother gave me more in life than he probably ever knew and I needed to do something with the money that would have made him proud. Furthermore I was grieving and even though I had recently landed my dream job in a career I had worked so hard for, the monotony of the daily routine was getting to me. Life was becoming predictable and even though I’d had such a turbulent year the last thing I wanted was comfort or routine. I wanted needed to go on an adventure.
This was why answering ‘Why did you decide to move to Australia?’ with the truth wasn’t exactly a great way to kickstart the holiday mood.
RAIN, RAIN, GO AWAY
I had arrived in Australia just an hour before the conversation on the shuttle bus, where I had quickly collected my luggage from the carousel and walked through the terminal ready for sunshine and warmth to greet me.
I was instead met with a monsoon.
Of course my one and only rain jacket was buried deep in one of my suitcases and me being me, I couldn’t remember which one.
My mind cast back to a rather popular movie, The Matrix. “You choose the blue case, the story ends. You wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You choose the yellow case, you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes”.
I started opening the blue case and frantically unpacked everything in the middle of the airport. Once I had fully displayed all my personal items to the world, I realised that I had in fact packed it in the yellow case instead. Ah, the small yellow case that was bursting at the seams. The one that I’d had to sit on while my best friend Hollie zipped it up before I left London. I glanced outside. It was pouring and I would get soaked. I was going in.
‘You okay there?’, enquired a lady who was sitting across from where I stood. ‘Yup’, I replied even though I was sweating profusely, flustered and now trying to open my yellow case yet finding the zip had become completely stuck. ‘What you looking for?’, She asked while I engage in a game of tug of war with my zip. ‘Well’, I said, struggling, ‘my rain jacket is in here somewhere..’, as I gave it another big yank.
‘Oh I wouldn’t worry about that! By the time you get it out. The rain will have stopped!’. As you can probably guess, as soon as she finished her sentence the zip finally unlatched and my case exploded open. ‘Ah well I’ve got it now’. I reply, quickly rummaging through my contents and pulling it out, ‘thanks though!’.
Then, trying to be as smooth as possible, knowing I now had an audience,I carefully tucked my belongings back in, gently closed the lid and tried to gracefully rezip my case. Now of course, it wasn’t that simple. It had taken my weight to close it originally so logic dictated it was going to take the same again now. I tried to be as elegant as possible.. perching on one corner in a lady like manner and trying to pull the zip round but it wasn’t quite working. ‘Do you need a hand?’, The lady asked, seemily amused. Would this lady just go already? ‘Ohh oh no no no,, I got this’, I smiled. Even though I most definitely did not got this. I pushed down harder. ‘I can help you!’, she continued. The next thing I know the lady is sitting on the other side of my case so close we are practically sitting on top of each other. Well they did say aussies were friendly. ‘I’ll sit and you push’, she commanded. So I obeyed, jumped off the case and tried to push it shut. ‘Pushhhhh!’, she instructed, loudly. That’s it. Keep going, almost there!
Would you like a hand?’, enquired a gentleman who happened to be passing by.
‘No no we’re fine. Absolutely fine’. I flustered.
‘Actually’, said the lady, ‘could you grab that other side?’. By now I could feel many eyes on us from around the airport. The man pushed down the other corner. The lady shimmied her bottom on top. I pulled on the zip. And suddenly. Presto! It zipped! Case closed!
‘Thanks so much’, I had said to my new friends and raised my hand in excitement hoping they would reciprocate in the traditional high five manner. They didn’t. ‘Oh look’ the woman exclaimed, indicating outside. ‘I told you it would stop raining!’
She was right. I tied my now useless rain jacket around my waist, thanked the woman and man profusely and hurried off to catch a ride into the city. This is when I ended up in the shuttle bus trying to dodge questions about why I was there.
JOURNEY TO THE CENTRE OF SYDNEY
As the bus dropped people off, bit by bit, the neighbourhoods stated to change from iconic CBD sights (where the Dutch girl said her goodbyes) to nice neighbourhoods to so so neighbourhoods and then suddenly shifted to what I imagined the bronx to look like. You know before it became up and coming back in the days when JLo was still growing up there. Each hostel we stopped at was deteriorating in quality and I was starting to feel concerned when the bus turned down a dirty street with graffiti down one side. Not the kind of graffiti I would later would see in Fitzroy either.
The bus stopped.
‘Please don’t say my name, please don’t say my name’, I repeated to myself.
‘Samantha, this is your stop!’, called the bus driver. My heart sank and I looked down at my paper print out of my booking and then back at the hostel. They looked completely different. They also had different names. Was that even legal?
‘Hi, I’m staying here tonight’, I said to the man behind the counter once I entered. ‘My booking reference is… ‘. ‘Too early’, he interrupted. ‘Come back at one’. ‘Oh I was just wondering if I could store my bags or….’ ‘You can store them there’ he said, indicating to a pile of bags lying next to the open entrance. The entrance that leads directly onto the dodgy street. ‘Ohh.. errrm’, I was trying to think what to say but my mind was hazy. I’d been travelling for 24 hours. ‘You can go away for a while and come back later’, he offers.
ONE NIGHT IN HELL
‘I think I’ll just wait here until check in’, I told him and plonked myself on the tiny chair in front of the counter, next to the luggage and logged into to the wifi. If there’s one thing that will defuse a stressful situation for me – it’s free wifi.
When my room was eventually ready I lugged my cases up the three flights of stairs and opened the door to the room. There were clothes, suitcases and dirty items everywhere. Three guys had been living there for a while. They didn’t speak English. I wanted to cry but pulled myself together and headed downstairs. ‘I can’t say here for the month’, I said to the man who had served me earlier, my voice wobbling. ‘I can stay tonight.. but I need to move out tomorrow’.
‘I get it’, said the man who had been previously dismissive. He obviously knew the place was a dump. I mean he had eyes and a sense of smell after all. ‘Look, tell you what. Go have a walk towards this road and check out the hotels in person. I’ll contact the agent you booked through and arrange a refund’. Which is exactly what I went on to do.
ONWARDS AND UPWARDS
I survived the night and the next morning I braved the hostel kitchen to make myself some toast with Vegemite. Well, when in Rome! As they say. Although I was less in Rome and more in the roughest part of Sydney.
A lovely South American guy sat down beside me. ‘Why did you decide to come to Australia?’, he asked halfway through our conversation. ‘I wanted to push myself outside of my comfort zone’ I said, which was again partly true and had certainly been the theme over the last 24 hours. ‘And you?’, I asked. ‘I had a very difficult year last year’, he explained, openly. ‘I see this as a fresh start’.
It was in that moment I felt like my journey had truly began. Here I was connecting with someone from another part of the world who had his own reasons for being there and his own troubles to reflect on. We all have our reasons for leaving our loved ones and travelling miles away from home and sometimes you might choose to share them and sometimes you might not, but I was proud that I was doing something. I knew my brother would be proud of me too. A year and a half after losing him I don’t spend a day where I don’t miss him being in this world but the fact I’m exploring it bit by bit in his memory, makes it that little bit more bearable to deal with.
I stepped out of that awful hostel with my luggage ready to move to my new one. Later that day I would be starting my new job and I was feeling hopeful. As I stepped outside the warmth hit my face and I could see blue skies and sunshine (in between the crack den style houses). It was a beautiful day. ‘Ahh’, I said to myself, taking it all in, ‘Welcome to Australia!’.