When I booked the trip, it was really about the timing and content. My friend who I travelled to Darwin with on the Ghan had to return to work. I still had some time off so was looking for a way to have some experience of Western Australia and get back in time to start work again myself.
The one I found matched the dates. I could fly across to Broome, have a few days there and pick it up, travel all the way to Perth and then fly back to Sydney.
Beyond that, I didn’t think too much about it. I knew it was pretty basic accommodation (camping/hostels/dongas) which suited me fine. It was really only just before I joined the trip that it occurred to me that perhaps the other travellers might all be somewhat younger than me. Thoughts began to niggle.
Would I fit in?
Would I keep up?
Would they chase me off the bus with torches of burning Savannah Woodland?
At first these fears seemed justified when I was picked up at 6.30am to be greeted by a young guy laughing maniacally and waving a koala hand-puppet..and he was with the travel company.
In the end though, all was well. They were French, Swiss, British and Dutch. They were in their 20s, most, visiting for twelve months, working when they needed to.
We made lunch sandwiches together and sat around in the evenings chatting. We played giant jengo, table tennis and twister at the hostel and tested out the local brews.
It was a unique experience seeing my country through their eyes, hearing something about, and sharing something of their time in Australia. Of those having the fairly classic backpacker adventure, amidst mostly positive stories, tales of some dodgy hostels and employers, the reputation of Darwin as a party town and through all, the expectation of warmth and sun. With this seemed to come a corresponding bewilderment to find that we do indeed have a winter when the cool finds bare limbs. Fortunately the nature of this vast place is that by the mere planning of travel you can find ‘summer’ on the continent at any time. Like birds, many backpackers seemed to travel north as temperatures dropped in the south, capturing the bright sunlight and storing it for their return home.
One of the group was Claire. She was French and studying in Melbourne. She was smart, interested and thoughtful about the world and just a lovely young person. It was a particular pleasure to meet her and have her company on the trip. We waited together for the dolphins on that strip of beach at Monkey Mia when everyone else (probably the more sensible folk) had left. I’m so glad we did.
I didn’t expect any of this when I booked the trip. I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.
It was another way again of opening up to new places even in my own backyard. I hope all those young visitors take into their futures rich and fond memories of their time in Australia. I wish them a lifetime of travel adventures and hope they make it back to our shores.