sig other and I are spending the month of November in Australia, mostly travelling. Australia is, er, pretty big. We are trying to see a good selection of the bottom right-hand corner, and a month is not really enough for that. However we have spent time with family on the northern edge of Sydney, had a look round central Sydney - I maintain my view from a visit 10 years ago that Sydney is too spread-out and too car-based to be a city I can really like - flew to Adelaide where I caught up with old friends and we had some beach and pool time, did a tour along the Great Ocean Road, which involved walking up and down some steep places, temperate rain forests, koalas, kangaroos (one of which we ate, a very tasty bolognese) and king
parrots and cockatoos, the latter of which are the coolest birds around, and the former - well, someone went crazy with the paintbox when they got their colours. Then we got to Melbourne for phase 4 of the trip, Australian urban culture. Melbourne is a terrific place to be, one day I would like to live here. The trip is less stressful than many, in that this is an English-speaking country. Since leaving Adelaide we have been staying in backpacker hostels ("hostel" is pronounced by Australians with the stress on the second syllable, which makes the person saying it sound effete to my ears, who knew?) which is a new experience for me, and naturally enough most of the others staying there are about 40 years younger than me. But it's all good. On the tour we shared chores, cooking barbecue lunch, clearing up and washing up and so on. Except of course for two 18-year-old German princesses, who apparently believed that rule did not apply to them. We are now finishing phase 4 in the Greenhouse Backpackers in central Melbourne, in the same building as the police station, which is a big hostel, very well run and organised and friendly, and superbly located. Recommended for anyone, of any age, who is planning a trip. I like backpacker life. You are free to do and dress as you like, and have company if you want it, or not, as you choose. I'll be doing some more of this. Phase 5 begins later today, when we board the Spirit of Tasmania for - you guessed it.
Australians in their middle years and older travel ALL THE TIME. I am told that a middle-aged couple selling their home and going on the road has even been a storyline in Neighbours. In the rain forest we met a family group in their sixties, who said they were from New South Wales, but "We live on the road now. We're travelling.". I cannot imagine a British couple doing this. They would be too interested in the equity in their house. Before I came here a colleague lent me (thanks Gillian) a book called "In The Land Of Oz" by Howard Jacobson, a writer I have never been sure about, which remains my position. This book was published in 1987, when what was then called Native Land Rights was fairly new. It is dated in the ways you might expect. Jacobson and his (Australian) wife go to places visitors do not go, opal mining towns and such like. Everywhere they go they encounter these older travelling couples, and I can vouch that a new generation of them is still doing it. Jacobson's theory about this phenomenon is that with increasing focus on the custodianship of the Australian land, these people, whose parents may have been immigrants to Australia, are staking their own claim to the land, as their title to it is increasingly in question. Well, maybe. An interesting idea, and not one I think I have the courage to ask Australians about.