Beyond the cupboard of broken toys — part 21


I have been in Australia for three months. I have spent five thousand, nine hundred dollars.

I have been snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef. I have hiked the Six-Foot-Track. I have imbibed glasses of port at the Digger’s Rest Hotel in Lightning Ridge. I have seen giant fruit bats in the Kuranda rain forest. I have seen a Banksia in full bloom. I finally saw my first kangaroo in the Warrumbungles. I have been to Lewisham in South East Sydney (Nicer than the one in London). I have run to the top of Sublime Point Lookout. I have been canoeing on the Barron River. I have seen the Kiama blowhole. I have seen mud-skippers and fiddler crabs in a mangrove swamp. I have been fossicking for opals. I have trekked by pony through the Formartine Forest. I have been to a musical recital in Sydney Opera House. I have been to excellent museums and galleries. I have been to the theatre. I have seen so many amazing and astounding things.

I declined to do a bungee-jump.

I have dined on New-Australian cuisine in sophisticated restaurants. I have had meat-pie floaters from roadside vans. I have had top-class Sczechuan food in Chinatown. I have had lamb chops and two veg at the rotating restaurant at Katoomba. I have been to countless barbecues. I have had pan-fried kangaroo steak in a peppercorn jus. I managed to dodge the bush-tucker tour. I have enjoyed my generous host’s wonderful cooking on many occasions. And I have cooked for them in return and felt privileged to do so.

I have received the most generous hospitality from some of the nicest people I am ever likely to meet in my life. And I have been lied to by world-class bullshit artists.

And most of that in one corner of New South Wales.

I have become a member of Maroochydore Surf Club. I am awarded a Maroochydore Surf Club Tee-shirt. It is here, away from my hosts, that I finally manage to hook up with someone and have a couple of days physical companionship.

Now it is time for me to go.

On many occasions during my holiday I have been asked if I would like to live in Australia. This is actually a common thing. Australians are keen to hear that you want to make a life in this new world. There is only one honest answer to that question.

As lovely as it is, and Australia is very, very lovely indeed, it is not my home. I have only been here for three months. That is not enough time for me to make a proper value judgement.

My home is a small, damp island ten thousand miles away. Although my parentage is of a Scottish and Irish mix, my home is in England. It is where I live. I self-identify as English. It is where I pay my taxes. It is where I vote. It is the home-nation of the country I have served and who looked after me with such care when I was seriously ill. It is where I am going to spend the next three years as a student, learning about the conservation of musical instruments. It is where I am going to work until I retire. It is where I will draw my pension.

And that should be good enough for anyone.

It is an honest answer but it doesn’t make me any friends.

Some folk are very keen that I should be related to members of the First Fleet. They have volumes of literature on those new settlers. They want me to have some connection to this lovely, lucky country.

“There was a Corporal Lamb in the Rum Corps,” I am informed. I very much doubt that there is any meaningful link between him and me. But they want that link so much that I accede we could be related. It is the best I can do. And it is almost certainly a lie.

Australia has been good for me. My holiday has been good for my mental health. Apart from a few heart-stopping moments with the wildlife, things have been unstressed and easy. I am at ease with myself and will be sorry to leave.

My friends come to see me off at the airport. It is a confused and confusing experience. I have twice as much luggage now as when I arrived. I have presents for everyone at home. I got my friend Douggie Adams a pouch made out of a kangaroo scrotum to keep his false teeth in. I got Charlie Gallagher a ‘digger’ hat, even though he doesn’t wear hats. And I have got hundreds of photographs. I use my last hundred dollars to pay the airport tax.

I am very upset but manage to suppress my feelings. It is something I have been doing successfully for decades. My flight is called and I have to go. I make my last farewells and go through the gate. I pass along the passage and onto the Lufthansa 747 jumbo jet. I stow my cabin luggage and take my seat. And that is when it hits me. Like a boot in the stomach. I spend the next 23 hours in a numb trance. That same feeling I now recognise. That feeling when I know that I am close to another melt-down.