Thursday, April 03, 2008

First Impressions

Forgive me if this is a little disjointed (Or just plain bad) but it was written whilst on hold, and the music was distractingly bad.

It's a bit stream-of-consiousness-y, but I just don't have the time for an edit.

I arrived in Australia in the early nineties. I don’t remember the exact date, but I know it was the day wearing a bike helmet became compulsory.

I don’t remember the plane trip much, or landing in Sydney, although I do remember being airsick and mortified on the plane.

My first really distinct memory of Australia was being absolutely stunned – just completely floored – by the greeny-blue of the trees. It was almost an assault on the eyes. I couldn’t have conceived of a colour so utterly vivid in my wildest dreams.

It was early morning when we arrived, and there was an “important” soccer match on, so my then – teenage cousins were up to welcome us. It was incredibly comforting to this young girl that they were there – familiar, family – when we arrived at their home in the Blue Mountains.

I went to bed and awoke to a brightness of day that physically jarred me. My first thought? “Why has my mother put curtains on the door?” – My bed faced the door at home, and I was so unprepared for the change, my mind groped for the only thing that seemed logical. I hadn’t been asleep long, it turned out, and my father was already awake and making tea – some things, they don’t change – when my uncle called me out into the backyard. He’d found a lizard. A tiny skink – the kind of thing you see every day here, was, well, novelty is too small a word. I t was alien to me. I thought it was the most fascinating thing I had ever seen.

It remained so until my next huge discovery. This was when we had moved to Blaxland, the next suburb, into our “own” house (It was rented, of course) which was set on a cliff that dropped straight into the bush, And in that bush, clinging to the bark of a tree, I found the discarded shell of a Cicada larvae.

If I didn’t believe in aliens before, I did now. I prised the shell from the bark and tore p the steps, through the garden and into the kitchen. No one had a clue what it was. My parents suggested I take it into school to find out, and the other kids informed me of its origins. I was no less impressed. THIS was the thing that made the constant droning noise I’d just about gotten used to? It was the strangest looking thing I had ever seen.

Cicadas were everywhere; the green “Grocers” were plentiful, and not much cache was attached to finding them. The black type (Butchers is coming to mind?), were, however, much more scarce, and if you found one you were temporarily a hero.

I don’t think you can appreciate just how different life in, and Australia itself, is unless you’ve come here with fresh eyes. The animals here are not just different, they are floridly bizarre. And Australians are so used to them they barely give them a second thought.

Not so this little Taff girl.

The first time we saw a Funnel Web spider in the hairy, terrifying flesh, I will never forget. My mother wouldn’t go back into the house, and I remained firmly convinced that stepping on it wouldn’t kill it. They looked so terribly threatening I honestly thought that shooting it was the only way to go.

The first time a bushfire cam close was an eye-opener as well. I was used to cold, snow, hail, and sleet. Used to winds that feel like they’d tear the flesh from your bones. Any of the wintery type of extreme weather I can deal with. But this was something else. Five kilometres seemed so far away, but if I needed proof that they came through our area, I had only to look to the trees, still black in parts from the last assault. The air was heavy with smoke, and the bush – which had filled my ears with it’s never-ending sound for months – was strangely quiet.

My parents tell me we were flat broke then – budgeting to the cent what we had to live on and sitting on second-hand furniture – but they must have done an excellent job of it, because I don’t remember feeling disadvantaged because of money. If anything, I probably thought the opposite. I mean, we were living in a one-storey house! In Wales, living in a one-storey house, or Bungalow, as they’re known there, marked you out as someone with money.

We had a pool in our backyard, which in the Blue Mountains is the done thing, and I have a picture of myself in bright green goggles, clashing terribly with my bright pink swimming costume, grinning like a loon with my brother whilst playing in it. A pool in my backyard! – A Backyard, for that matter! I mean, wow!

I don’t remember consciously choosing to lose my accent, but I do remember thinking – and being told – that I was going to have to slow down my speech. Even into High School debating at 17, I was told to slow it down to make it easier to be understood. Most people now don’t twig that I’m anything but a true-blue Aussie, but apparently I do talk too fast to be understood at times, generally when I’m excited.

Certain things still allude me – sometimes I have trouble distinguishing between the number eight and “o” on the phone, I hate vegemite, fairy bread, creaming/y soda, Cold Chisel (Although Jimmy’s a Scot) and consider VB in a can to be urine from the last leper in hell (100 points if you can tell me what comedy that’s from) and I don’t think I’ll ever get to a point where I actively welcome a hot day, but for the main part, I love this home of mine.

As a youngster, you’re a lot more adaptable, and I can only imagine what it was like for my parents, and my Aunt and Uncle who emigrated a few years before us. Every day for my brother and I was a new adventure. For them, every day must have been hard slog to get a foothold.

Whatever the case may be, I’m glad they chose to make that colossal move. From a town where we had family within yelling distance to a place so seemingly uninhabited that crying “Cooee” was unlikely to illicite a response (and didn’t my brother and I try. Until it drove everyone for miles around to distraction)

I go back to Merthyr – my hometown – now and I’m struck by the greyness as much as I was first struck by the green here.

And I hope I never forget just how lucky I am.


Evan said...

VB in a can to be urine from the last leper in hell (100 points if you can tell me what comedy that’s from)

Blackadder II, "Beer". See the little goblin, see his little feet...

And if you think VB from a can is horrible, dark beers from cans are worse.

Will commest further on post re: how much nicer Melbourne is than Sydney later, just wanted to claim those 100 points first :D

Keri said...

And his little nosey-wose, isn't the Goblin sweet?

Well done, Evan. One hundred points and a shiny new dollar to you!