The Wide Open Spaces of the Nullarbor Plain. Flies not pictured.
First, let me get something out of the way. I love Australia, I really do. Obviously, being a Brit means there’s a lot of rivalry between our two nations (mainly about sport), but most of the time it’s merely ‘friendly banter’, and it’s very much a place that we British long to visit and explore.
I love the people (they are all, uniformly, completely barmy); I love the laid-back attitude as befits a country with too much sun (in a supermarket on the Sunshine Coast, in the middle of Winter, around 10-15% of the clientele were barefoot) and too much wildlife (‘eh, you don’t need to worry about the 10 deadliest spiders mate, you’ll never see them. The 10 deadliest snakes eat them long before they reach you’); I love the friendly relaxed familiar towns, the long open roads, the glorious empty skies …
A quokka looking cute on Rottnest Island.
The problem comes, ultimately, precisely because of the fact that I’m British.
For many people, Australia is seen as a vast unexplored continent, full of unknown dangers and exciting journeys, with strange musical instruments and even stranger animals – visitors have been raised on tales of kangaroos and platypuses, of outback adventurers and native populations blowing into tubes and painting on rocks.
The nearest most people get to traditional Australian music.
However, to a Brit, the reality is much more mundane.
The vast bulk of the population lives in what amounts to large glorified English country towns. Suburbia. Endless roads of townhouses and bungalows, and town centres with familiar layouts, designs, and even shops, that wouldn’t look out of place in Hertfordshire. Add to that the fact that everyone’s speaking English, they drive on the left, the buses look and operate the same, the television’s pretty identical, and even some of the product branding matches, and it very much feels like home. Especially when you consider that around 5.5% of all Australians were born in the UK (based on 2011 census), and presumably considerably more have family over here.
In fact, it feels too much like home. And that’s my problem.
I’ve travelled to quite a few places in the world, and I’ve grown to accept things that are a little out of my comfort zone. From currency you have to carry around in bags rather than wallets, to indistinguishable insects deep-fried to within an inch of their nutrition; from cramped minibuses occupied by 7-8 people more than the recommended maximum, to trying to negotiate at market stalls or with guides in a language that neither of you are fluent in.
Australia, on the other hand, is easy. For a Brit, backpacking around Australia is like backpacking around the UK, except marginally cheaper and with longer coach rides. After going to the Middle East, to SE Asia, Australia feels less like a holiday destination and more like spending time with family. It’s not ‘unusual’, it’s not ‘challenging’, it’s not (dare I say it) ‘exciting’ – it’s the travel equivalent of walking into a clothes shop and settling for a new patterned cardigan rather than the tie-dye shirt you’d originally wanted.
Birmingh…no, wait, it’s Adelaide 🙂
Sorry, Australia; for me you’re a great place to visit, but not a place to go on holiday to. And anyway, your beer’s worse than our cricket team :p