I boarded the plane at Tullamarine airport with some disappointment. After twenty five days in Australia, I had only scratched the surface of what it had to offer. It had been a turbulent, non-stop trip covering hundreds of miles, made possible only by the family members who ferried me everywhere.
The journey to Australia was originally taken up as an opportunity to spend time with Alfred Green, my grandfather’s brother, and write his stories. My grandfather died before I was born so it was the chance to learn about an era of my family that I had never heard about. I had listened over the years to passed down stories, rumours and questionable anecdotes about my granddad and his family, but it was the chance to get the real detail from someone who was there.
In the last few years, through mental health problems, I have struggled with going anywhere but places I have vetted and frequented. It has only been this last few months that there has been a noticeable change in my confidence. The thought of travelling ten thousand miles, unaccompanied (unfortunately because of children and dogs, Suzanna could not come this time) to a place I had never been before, was not stressless. The biggest challenge would have been travelling to London if I had to travel from Gatwick or Heathrow, but thankfully there are regular flights to Australia via Dubai from Newcastle Airport. It meant that Suzanna could leave me at the airport knowing I would have no problem getting on the flight.
The flight was long. Twenty six hours. In that time I read three-quarters of Walking Home by Simon Armitage, wrote fifty pages of nonsensical scribble and dozed off several times during one of the dozens of films available. I’m not one to stay stationary for very long, so it was a relief to finally land. Family were there to meet me wrapped in thick coats and scarfs for the Australian ‘Winter’. It was warmer than back home during the day, at nine in the evening.
Melbourne felt huge, miles of wide roads filled with huge cars, buildings that scrape the sky. I strolled the streets photographing the eclectic blend of cultures and styles. Tiny buildings such as Saint Francis Church in the centre of the CBD, the oldest catholic church in Melbourne, are hidden amongst the forest of high-rise glass that overshadows them. Britain feels tiny in comparison, even the big cities London, Birmingham feel overcrowded compared to the space that Australia has and as you move away from the built up areas the space becomes even bigger.
I travelled to Canberra for a short time. The country’s capital was built because a decision couldn’t be made over whether Sydney or Melbourne should have the title. Instead at huge cost Canberra was planned from scratch as part of a design competition. The city is spacious and contains numerous examples of fine architecture such as Parliament house, The War memorial, The National Library all built around a huge lake. The roads are straight and very rarely busy and the whole city has the feel of a theme park for grown ups.
Connecting the cities are long highways surrounded by vast planes of farming land, liberally sprinkled with huge gum trees and wooden farmhouses. Occasional sign posts reveal towns left over from the original settlements. Wide streets flanked by wooden colonial buildings that resemble something from a wild west film. Beautifully ornate banks and hotels with curved metal roofs, beside pubs and cafes with rusting metal and sun peeled paint.
I travelled around Port Phillip bay, family taking turns to show me some of the towns and beaches along the coast, Geelong and Queenscliff, Portsea and Sorrento. We travelled along the Great Ocean Road, the worlds largest war memorial, built after the First World War by returning soldiers. I photographed sunsets and piers and buildings, forests of Eucalyptus and white sand beaches. We shared stories of our family’s history, of our links to Portobello and Barley Mow, Birtley and Chester-le-Street of miners and soldiers.
Then it was time to return home. Twenty six hours, scribbling the memories of the previous few weeks onto a pad.