I came to Australia for the same reason most people do – the same old regular reason to come to Australia: I was broke.
Okay, well maybe it’s not the most common reason for coming here…but I had no choice. I’d been in Thailand for a year, diving for a living, and, well, I wasn’t making a living. Or not much of one…possibly because I’m not a very good diver.
Anyway, by the time I realised I was going to starve to death, it was already too late to fly home to England—I couldn’t afford a ticket. And anyway, I figured that would be a rude awakening—northern England, even in mid-summer, was bound to be a let-down after a year in paradise. So instead I bought a ticket to Australia, and flew to Perth—where it was mid-winter.
I arrived at 6am.
It was achingly cold, pouring down with rain—and I was wearing a pair of shorts and a vest, because that’s all the clothing I owned! It honestly hadn’t occurred to me that they had winters in Australia. Suffice to say, I survived. I’d picked Perth because my sister Gill was there, visiting a friend she’d made whilst working at Camp America. I landed with less than the price of a cup of coffee to my name, and literally had nowhere else to go. Gill’s friend, Krista, took me to stay at her family home in the hills surrounding the city, and the next day she found me a job with her employment agency. Just like that! I remember thinking, ‘this would have taken ages in England!’ I started working the day after that, and in two weeks I saved up almost a thousand dollars. Now that really would have taken ages in England!
From then on, Gill and Krista took me with them, in a knackered old van they’d bought (and christened ‘Rusty’), and we spent the next two years exploring Australia. It really does take that long. It’s quite a big place!
Together, we climbed gorges, camped out in the bush, swam in water-holes—at least until we spotted the ‘Beware of Crocodiles’ signs—and generally meandered our way across the vast emptiness that locals call ‘the red centre’. It was an epic adventure:
In the far north of Western Australia, we picked pumpkins in the blistering heat
(and I single-handedly destroyed an entire crop of sandalwood trees—by accident, I promise!). Closer to Perth we worked as brick pavers, despite never having lifted a brick in our lives. There was such an attitude of acceptance, a willingness to give us all ‘a fair go’. This sentence sums up the Aussie attitude to pretty much everything, from work to life to other people—I was most amused to find, years later, that my government-issued guidebook to Australian Migration was called ‘A Fair Go’!
When we got to Sydney, Krista and I became a couple, and we kicked Gill out. Poor girl. I still maintain, it was for her own good…
The knackered little van that had carried us from one side of the country to the other was sold in Melbourne to a surfer-dude. I think he appreciated the paint job—we’d covered the whole van in multi-coloured hand prints! It made it hard to lose in a car park. The next two years were spent bouncing around New Zealand—literally. I was learning to snowboard and I spent far more time flying through the air face-first than I’d anticipated. Turns out, I’m not much better at snowboarding than I am at diving…But it was lots of fun, and New Zealand is breathtakingly beautiful. For a while I considered living there, too.
In the end, though, something happened to pull me back to Australia:
Krista and I married on my birthday in 2011, in the grounds of Taunton Castle in England. People came from Thailand, Ireland, Holland, Australia—even my sister Gill was there, with the husband she’d acquired after we kicked her out in Sydney.
Since then, I’ve come to love Perth’s rugged beauty. There’s so much wildness left here, there are still parts that seem almost like frontier towns . In England you have to go pretty far out of your way to find an unspoilt landscape, or a patch of ground from which you can’t see a single sign of human habitation. Here… well, it’s everywhere. The bush stretches unending for thousands of miles, with only the occasional settlement connected by long, lonely roads. There are canyons to the north, million-hectare forests to the south, and a vast desert stretching halfway to Sydney.
As the Australian Tourist Board said in their ads (which were sadly banned from TV in the UK) – “Where the bloody hell are ya?”
Bio: Tony James Slater is the author of crazy travel comedy ‘That Bear Ate My Pants!’
He is a very, very strange man. He believes himself to be indestructible, despite considerable evidence to the contrary. He is often to be found making strange faces whilst pretending to be attacked by inanimate objects. And sometimes – not always, but often enough to be of concern – his testicles hang out of the holes in his trousers. It is for this reason (amongst others) that he chooses to spend his life far from mainstream civilisation, tackling ridiculous challenges and subjecting himself to constant danger. He gets hurt quite a lot.