“Who is Gina Pronk?”, you’re probably wondering. That is what I also wondered for a long time.
1. The Book
When in Australia, I had bought a little book in a second-hand bookshop: a Dutch novel printed in 1961 whose yellowed pages carry the smell of time. I wrote about this story in my post The Surfing End. The first thing you see as you open the book is a dedication that lies peacefully there since the 13th of April 1961. It says “With the best wishes for the future”.
My time in Australia has almost come to an end, and this post will report a few additional impressions about the place, mostly random ones with random pictures.
One of the first remarks I had is how Australian people seemingly love to drive barefoot. I’m sure there’ll be a few who don’t agree (Linda?), but from Queensland to Western Australia I’ve witnessed it quite a few times.
The Christmas decorations which adorn shops and streets were already in place since the beginning of November (I’ve seen them firstly in Perth). Beside the usual debate on the real purposes of putting them on when we’re still two months away, it was so strange to see them during full spring swing, while walking in shorts and thongs! To me, Christmas has always been White: the snowy, fireplace night filmed in countless movies. Here, the birth of Jesus is a barbecue on the beach with sunglasses and possibly a surf board.
Speaking of sun, Australia was also the first country I visited in the Southern Emisphere, so our still star was actually pointing North instead of South. Also, because we’re so much closer to the Equator, the sun at noon is way higher on the horizon. The result is a different orientation as you walk, as you look at things at different times of the day and as where the sunrise / sunset light come from. For a former scout like me, this is a total reversal of all I’ve always believed in! Ok, maybe I pushed a bit too much on that one.
We spent one of my last Melbourne days at St. Kilda, the southern neighborhood on the ocean. We sat for a while at a cake shop, just across the street from this funnily named shop, which I guess sells stationary..?
We then went for a walk on the beach, and at some point we stumbled across this metallic statue of the world that was the perfect set for a “I’m Traveling So I Feel On Top Of The World” shot.
After the epic image, you’ll probably find more interesting and closer to reality the procedure to get there, with the essential help of my friend Tom.
The seaside walk also provided material for the “Different Nature Of The Post” category: a dead blowfish on the shore. It was actually quite ugly and big (maybe as long as my foot), and I wondered how bigger it gets when using the balloon superpower! Highly poisonous, we thought it was better to let it rest there. Ah, if my friend Hokuto was there! Maybe he’d have known how to cook it – the blowfish is a Japanese specialty.
So yeah, my Australian days have come to an end. I can no doubt say that I left the best for last, as Melbourne is really a spectacular place to live in, probably more than to be a tourist.
Overall though, I came here definitely unprepared. I hadn’t quite grasped how big this country is: traveling around using public transport (train, bus, plane) is just terribly limiting as it isn’t capillary at all, and accommodation costs are quite high. The ultimate solution is to buy a van where you can also sleep in, thus solving the two problems at the same time. Then you fill it with friends, which reduces the fuel costs, put a couple of surf boards on the roof and you’re set for months of unlimited fun in an amazing country that you’ll be never done exploring. And I have all intentions to do this, somewhen in the future.
Goodbye Australia, it was nice to meet you. Next time we’ll become friends.
The Aboriginal Journey of the last post took me to the other almost-capital city of Australia: Melbourne! And let me tell you from the beginning, this is no doubt the best place I’ve seen so far in this continent.
Its cosmopolitan, multi-cultural and alternative character is so strong that you can spot it at any corner, you feel it as you walk down the little alleys and through the arcades. I haven’t taken many pictures in Melbourne, as more than on dramatic or spectacular sights (like the Opera House in Sydney), the soul of this city lies in every brick, in every persons and every shop. This is what welcomed me to the station from the airport: a bag shop completely covered in… bags!
This town made me feel instantly like at home. Outside the center, houses are wooden, old and all different. All frontyard owners struggle to keep up with the green grass as Melbourne has a deserved reputation for being very rainy and grey… well, maybe that helped made me feel like home!
Travel-wise, my situation is similar to what I’ve live in Seattle four years ago, as also in this case I am staying with friends. I met Damien and Tom when they visited Stephen in Amsterdam, less than one year ago. I guess Tom will never forget his stay as he helped us toss the flooding water out of the window, while it was leaking in the restaurant downstairs… errr, back to Australia.
Their place is a cozy house just north of the city center and well connected via tram and train. They are computer people as well, so finally I came back to an accommodation where the internet connection works like a dream and screens outnumber people by large! Also, like it was in Seattle, we have big dinners (last night I cooked my special Carbonara for the five of us) and plenty of friends and bikes are always around the house – I even got to ride a fixed gear bike to the grocery store!
Before coming here, I had the great advices of Hayley. She has emotionally partecipated to the Australian leg of my journey, even drawing stuff on a map for me – which also had the purpose to distract me while the others upstairs were preparing a goodbye cake for me. A few days ago she emailed me tips for Melbs, the place she is most enthusiastic about. She tried to explain me how the best of this city resides “underground”, away from the lights, in little bars that only locals know. Thanks Hayley, that’s the advice I’ve tried to follow and the best one you could give me! This was the backyard of a lively bar in Fitzroy.
Here’s a shot from another night, a gig in Carlton. At the end, the band invited as many people as it fit to go on stage and scream all together – never seen such an enthralling concert closure! Can you spot me up there?
Although it will be very hard, I will try to render the texture of the city with a few moments I captured with my camera. Strolling the narrow alleys in the center, you fairly often see photo-sets: a lot of urban fashion surrounded by graffiti art, which often covers every inch of available walls.
We often have food in a cute, little café on St. Georges, close to where we live. A very anonymous café, there’s not even a sign from outside; you have to either know it or stumble across it. It’s no touristic place whatsoever, still it’s so cute that it’s impossible to describe. This is a “sandwich of love” that I got there!
There is a main pedestrian strip where buskers entertain the crowd in many creative ways, a bit like Grafton Street in Dublin, Ireland.
With all these premises, the art museum scene of this city couldn’t be anything less than brilliant. This is a composition I have found at the National Victoria Gallery International, another deserved tip from Hayley. Named “One and three brooms”, it shows the broom itself, a picture of it and the abstract definition from the vocabulary. VERY contemporary!
I don’t have many days to spend in this city. I wish I had planned for more, which would allow me to explore the surfing culture as well. But I already know that, shall I ever look for a job in Australia, Melbourne would be the place.
Yo yo yo (three times)!
The last night at the ‘backpacker’ had been full of hugs and adios. Me and the Australian girl Heidi would leave the next day; both going to Perth, with the difference that I would endure many hours on a bus while she would poshly take a plane. The next morning I went for a swim at 6:30, then met a few early birds at the hostel (among which Heidi herself) and finally left for the bus station after breakfast. The Greyhound vehicle showed up shortly after I got there.
The bus journey was horrible: I couldn’t sleep due to a cute Aboriginal baby whose lungs had been replaced by a Marshall guitar amplifier, and, what’s worst, the air conditioning was at galactic level! It gave me a bad headache and somehow pulled out a lot of bad feelings, so that I was pissed off throughout the 6 hour journey. Once in Perth, I spent some time walking around and getting back to see my favourite building, the Swan Tower, then took the bus to the airport, another hour of pleasure due to the driver, whose dream as a kid was obviously to be a Formula 1 pilot.
My plan was to spend the night at the airport as my flight was somewhen around 6 the next morning, so once there I began looking for a nice spot to sleep. But I also noticed that the flight was actually at 11 am! I was just metabolizing the news and wondering how could I fill 16 hours in an airport, when somebody pulled my backpack from behind: I turn around and there’s a laughing Heidi! Such a funny coincidence, she had actually worked in Geraldton during the day and had just flown to Perth! That airport is clearly a coincidence catalyzer, as she also met another friend of her; the three of us spent a few pleasant hours in the airport café, so the time I had to kill had already been reduced!
Once they left, after a quick peek to the internet, I felt it was a good time to go to bed. I had slept in airports quite a few times before (the first one in Liverpool’s John Lennon), but this time I decided to enter full camping mode, using the inflatable sleeping mat and the sleeping bag as blanket.
The next morning, the crowd woke me up around 5:20, and few hours later and I was sitting on the plane. As usual, I had planned to read & sleep during the flight; as usual, none of that was going to happen. I sat next to a lovely, 60-something lady from Perth, and we spent the whole flight talking! She is the first white Australian person that I have talked to whose knowledge about the Aboriginal people went beyond the “oh yeah, so sad”.
She explained to me their interesting concept of time, and how it’s related to the “walkabout”. Their time management is completely different than ours, and so are their priorities. For instance if one of their relatives in a town 400 km away has a problem, they wouldn’t hesitate to just disappear for three days, putting any prior commitment into the background. Their time culture is all about taking all the time it takes to accomplish their tasks. Same applies to reaching compromises and solving problems: they would sit down and discuss till a solution is found. All this obviously doesn’t match our Western patters, and the term “walkabout” has thus long matched ideas of unreliability and frivolousness.
They had never known the concept of property nor fences. Like many other peoples, they would ask permission to kill an animal and then honour and mourn it before eating it. When the colonizers arrived and started the first pastures, Aboriginal people would just ask their sheep if they agreed to be eaten, and after the granted positive reply, they would simply take it – which of course made them immediately be seen as thieves.
A recent-history, tragic mistake was made in the sixties. By the time, most Aborigenes were not treated by the employer with equal rights as white workforce: for instance, they would be paid in goods (like flour) but not given a salary. With best intentions, a law addressed this inequality and employers were obliged to pay the Aborigenes exactly like the white men. What happened at this point though, was that many employers didn’t have enough money to pay all of them, with the result that they kept the 2 or 3 best workers they had and sacked all the rest. This triggered a massive shift towards unemployement, homelessness and alcohol abuse.
What then is probably the worst of all modern-day Aboriginal tragedies is the Stolen Generation. Kids were removed from their families and brutally thought white principles, possibly in Christian schools. From the website,
Children were removed because the Aboriginal race was seen as an embarrassment to white Australia. The aim was to strip the children of their Aboriginality, and accustom them to live in a white Australia. The tragedy was compounded when the children, as they grew up, encountered the racism which shaped the policy, and found themselves rejected by the very society for which they were being prepared.
Still nowadays there are Aborigenes who don’t know who their parents were. Even more importantly, they don’t know which land they belong to, when the geographical coordinates of their tribe and birthplace is an essential part of their spirituality. This generational disgrace is what the Sorry Day is about.
Why is it that for every country I visit, be it as rich as the United States or as poor as Nepal, I have to learn about the atrocities that Europeans committed to the indigenous populations? It’s a truly FUCKED UP feeling.