Living On Bourke Street

When I moved into the house on Bourke Street, one of the bedrooms had a glad-wrapped window. The outdoor toilet was without a toilet seat. The shower door was stuck on its hinges.

During my 6-month residency, the cracks in the walls deepened, the mould in the shower grew thicker and the collection of miscellaneous items in the backyard expanded, becoming a populated city of buckets and palettes and rock-climbing holds.  

At first, I lived with two vegetarians, a vegan activist and a grey whippet called Pixel. Two months later, one flew to Japan, another to Canada and the other to Tasmania, and were swiftly replaced by a young gay couple who were barred from Parliament House for protesting Adani, a big black poodle called Jackson, a mullet-donning surfer who had a penchant for peanut butter hummus and an underwater photographer with a collection of patterned socks and stick-and-poke tattoos. Nobody had a job. At least, not in the traditional sense. Most of us were back at uni.

The boys built a wall in the backyard, a slanted wall for their rock climbing holds. They put on harnesses and climbed the trees whose roots were claiming our house without mercy. They strung up hammocks and drank beer as the nearby neighbours gawked. The girls invested their energy into our styrofoam-boxed vegetable garden, and gave me their first two strawberries for my 25th birthday. I poured liquid clay into plaster moulds and made keep cups in our sunroom. We went surfing on full moons.

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We were almost entirely surrounded by walls of housing commission blocks. Their balconies were lined with towels and bicycles with one tyre and piles of soggy washing that had been left out in the rain. The windows were covered with sheets and fabric banners of girls in bikinis. One wall of apartments liked heavy metal, the other liked U2 and The Beatles. One lady had a baby carrier hanging over her balcony and often pushed an empty pram around town.

We would sit in our sticky Lino-floored kitchen, a mug of tea in our hands and our bare feet black with gunk, listening to the neighbours fighting. Sometimes we called the Police. Sometimes someone else did and people were taken away in paddy wagons. Sometimes we’d watch the Police with their search warrants scope the apartments with torches. We were told that the hallways were littered with glass and the walls covered in spray paint.

One afternoon, my housemate told me he saw one of the neighbours on their balcony stamping on two flat-screen televisions screaming “I’ll cut ya face off, ya cunt” while Cold Chisel was blasting from the lounge room. We saw many people come and go on those balconies, only aware of the changeover because of the young men in fluro vests and latex gloves who would arrive in vans to throw garbage bags of forgotten belongings over balconies.

Most of us had grown up in low socio-economic areas- we knew the stresses of Centrelink payments. They were never enough to cover school uniforms and school excursions.

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We weren’t all that scared of our neighbours - they were nice to us. Sometimes they’d let our parties go on until 6am, sometimes they’d call the Police when the music started at 6pm. There was no night and no day, no appropriate or inappropriate time to play loud music. It was largely dependent on their drug cycles.

Drugs were often just a symptom of a long ladder of injustices awarded by geography, race, class and bad luck. We watched as each rung snapped from our kitchen window. The rest of the world forgot about them.

The neighbour to our left didn’t have much grass in his backyard, so he’d mow ours every week. We’d come home after a night out or a weekend camping and the front lawn would be trimmed, our dying sunflowers leaning, inspecting the freshly cut grass like hungover punters in the sun. I caught him in the act once, but he didn’t speak much English. He told me he liked mowing. My housemates made him gluten-free, dairy-free brownies and left them on his doorstep as a thank you.

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On a rainy December morning, the sewerage tank under our front yard burst. The great flood of human waste covered the driveway and dribbled over the curb and down the street. The passing cars unknowingly sloshed their way through and took our block’s water waste through Wollongong city.

That evening, we had a ticketed backyard party planned. We were expecting over 200 party-goers, a few bands and a couple of DJs for good measure. We had spent the last day cable-tying milk crates together to build a stage for the drum kit. A bunch of our mates came round to string tarps from the awning to the hills hoist, a rock balancing in the gutter to prevent it from slipping down and covering people with the water that had gathered in the sag.  We were raising money for the local refugee centre and there was too much hype to cancel. We decided to inform the real estate of the issue on the Monday and let the brown river run.

We didn’t really think about the fact that 200 people and their eskies of beer and party drugs would require the toilet. Soon, we were swapping out intoxicated punters and arming them with a hose to wash down the driveway, while we bounced between dance floor, kitchen and front door, pushing out drug-induced strangers who didn’t buy a ticket because “who the fuck cares about refugees”.

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 The Police made an appearance enough times that we had to shut the party down and run to the ocean. Twenty five naked bodies, the last of us left, ran into the ocean pools. Two glowing-white bodies ran down the stairs holding hands with a flare in their hands. The bottoms and boobs and faces were alight with a fiery glow before the boys jumped in the pool and for a brief moment, the entire pool lit up, before fizzling out to darkness. Salt water fireworks. We trudged home in our damp clothes, clutching our empty keep cups that once held beer.

The brown river remained for four weeks, before Sydney Water got their act together. Two months later, my housemate noticed a bucket under a tree in the backyard. He needed a bucket because he was going diving that day- volunteering for the local sailing club.

He turned the dirt-filled bucket over and began to empty it, only to find that half the bucket was full of human shit. Whose it was, we had no idea, we could only assume that the driveway led some partygoers to get creative. He buried it under a tree, washed the bucket and rode his bicycle to the sea.

The house continued to sink, the roots beneath the foundations gained more strength by the day. Our houseplants grew, our plastic waste diminished and our recycling bin (strategically positioned under the kitchen window under the carport) overflowed.  The girls continued to paint signs and protest Adani and the rest of us got into arguments with conservative relatives and religious friends on Facebook. We sat around the kitchen and made food for pot luck dinners and ranted about the Liberal Government. 

We took turns cleaning the shower. Rats arrived and were somewhat-swiftly killed by the snapping of traps. Jackson had his curly mane shaved and as the Autumn gust arrived, he trotted around the house with one of the girls’ t-shirts on, tied up on his back.

I packed up my books and my clothes and moved out, my 6-month self-imposed lease terminated by the room available at the next house, my 10th sharehouse. The housemates bid me farewell, and lit a fire in the fireplace of the room I had once occupied. I think it’s the first time that fireplace has been lit in all of its 10-year rental history amongst our friends.

I’ll miss you, Bourke Street. May the tree roots not claim you just yet.  

Sometimes, I Have Sad Days

Sometimes I have sad days. Sometimes, I wake in the morning and find myself sitting at the bottom of a dark, damp well. When I look up, I can only just make out a feint pin-prick of light.

Relief.

I look down at my hands and study them. I pull my doona over my body and over my head and I fall back to sleep.

An hour later, I wake again. I am still in the well. At least, I think I am. Someone seems to have covered that hole at the top, and now I don’t know which way is up and which way is down. I reach out my hands to see if I can figure out where’s left and where’s right. Are these walls closing in on me? Why is it so goddamn dark?

photo cred:  sarah welsh

photo cred: sarah welsh

On sad days like this, it’s hard to get out of bed. It’s easy to indulge in the Bad Activities that ultimately make you feel worse. Lurking those people on social media because you hate them. Lurking those people on social media because you used to sleep with them. Lurking those people who used to sleep with someone you slept with and is now dating someone you went to high school with who went to Hawaii last Christmas and has a really cute German Shepherd named Molly…

Then you upload a photo seeking gratification from almost-strangers because maybe their double taps will be enough to haul you out of bed? At least rouse a stretch, surely?

Then, the Scroll Hole. The endless thumb flicking. Then the feet-dragging to the fridge. Sitting down in the shower. A bottle of red. An entire packet of wagon wheels. More time in the Scroll Hole.

Thankfully, these days are few and far between. But when they come, they arrive unexpectedly and boy, is that well deep.

When I have a Sad Day, I pull up the Notes in my phone. I have a list there called TO DO ON DAYS YOU’RE SAD. I add to this list on Happy Days, when I do something that brings me joy. This is what is on the list:

  • swim in the ocean or a river, no matter how cold it is

  • go for a walk, even if it’s just to the corner shop to get yourself a chocolate bar

  • read at least 100 pages of a book you love (The Secret Garden or Cloudstreet, preferably)

  • drive to someone’s house who has a bathtub and have a bath so hot you don’t know whether you’re sweating or crying or if you just rubbed your face with your wet hand

  • tell someone you love that you’re having a bad day so that you can feel safe

  • cook something delicious that takes a bit of time

  • find someone cuddly and ask them for a hug

  • watch this short film

  • take all your books off your shelf and put them back in a different order

  • listen to your Lie On Your Bedroom Floor in the Dark playlist. Preferably on your floor. In the dark.

  • call mum and dad

  • write stream of consciousness thoughts in your journal

This kind of list works for me at the moment, because I’m practically unemployed (okay, a freelancer, but not a very serious one) and I’m a student and the ocean is at the end of my street. This list also works because I work well with lists, and when I’m feeling really foggy and I can’t find the sun, it helps me locate it.

On Friday, I drove to my parents’ and had a bath and listened to my playlist in the car with tears streaming down my face. Sometimes crying feels better than not crying. Experience by Ludovico Einaudi and Wait by M83 are great songs for this and especially good for long train trips when you have the window seat. Very… Terrence Mallick.

On Saturday morning I took my stove and gas canister and drove to the bush, far enough where the reception cuts out so you know there’s no point checking your phone. I sat next to a river for 5 hours and read a book and made myself two cups of tea and re-heated the curry I ordered from a local takeaway shop the night before. I lay in the water with an audible gasp, because it’s almost winter in Australia now, and it’s kind of liberating to make noises when you’re alone.

On Sunday I had a picnic with my friends and baked them a cake with all of their names written in cursive in icing on the top. I took the long way home. A nice hour in the car, snaking down the coast. I stopped in at the beach I used to visit as a kid, and swum beside a couple of other lone ocean lovers. I read my book on the sand.

I made my housemates pumpkin soup when I got home and we ate it around a table in our sticky lino kitchen. Sunday was a day to fill with faces that wouldn’t mind I wasn’t Fun Happy Ruby.

On Monday I drove to my favourite beach, which is hugged by soaring cliffs and has a nice spot on soft grass under some trees for me to lay my picnic blanket on. I read my book and looked at the clouds for a few hours, and had celery and hommus and shortbread and cream biscuits. I told a friend I was feeling sad and he texted me a song. He sent me The National’s new single Light Years and I added it to my playlist. I like friends that respond to your sadness with signs that they know you, rather than sympathies.

And every day that I followed some of the things on my list, it felt like that little cover on the top of the well was moving. And soon, I could see a soft lick of light. Then, there was enough light to see a ladder. Later, I felt strong enough to climb. Today, deleting Instagram and Facebook from my phone gave me that strength. Next time, it might be something else, like finding out a friend is in the well with me. Seeing friends in the well can motivate you to haul yourself out of your own and take them with you.

It’s been a tough weekend. But it’s nice to move through the current of life and pick things up along the way to help me with the big waves. I can see the sun rising now, and she’s magnificent. I think tomorrow’s going to be a Good Day.

-

If days like this happen a lot, please seek support. Tell someone you love. See a professional who has the right kind of tools to help you understand the blur in your head (it changed my life). Call Lifeline on 13 11 14.

Goodbye NSW Music Festivals, You Were Good to Us

You pile into the car, a mishmash of smiling young faces. Someone plugs in the aux cord and the festival playlist blares through the speakers before you manage to pull out of the driveway. The boot’s packed to the brim with cheap festival tents and Aldi sleeping bags, gum boots and containers of body glitter. Your costumes are in your backpacks, every velvety clothing item and pair of fishnet stockings accounted for.

Your esky’s full of biscuits and fruit and leftover pesto pasta from the night before. You don’t fill it with alcohol because you’re not allowed to take any in. You decide to break the rules and try anyway. You’ve heard of people replacing their windscreen water with vodka and turning baby dolls into flasks. Instead you stuff bottles of liquor into your sleeping bag and underneath your seats and fill squeezy yoghurt pouches from Woolworths with tequila. You pray security won’t uncover it. You’re too poor to spend thousands at the festival bar, but you know that no matter how much you manage to sneak in, you’ll probably end up spending a few hundred anyway.

Maybe you’ve got drugs, because you’ve done the research and they ignite something in you. You stuff them up your butt or shove them deep in a peanut butter jar, praying that the drug dogs won’t sniff them out. You know you’re safe with acid and shrooms, so you keep them in your glovebox.  

You’ve all saved for this. You saved cash for the ticket, because a bunch of your favourite bands are playing and they’ve been flown out just for this event so they won’t be doing any side shows. You’ve saved up for petty money and food and grog and band merch. This weekend will cost ya, but it’s worth it. Festival season is your favourite time of year.

You drive for hours, stopping at the roadside pie shops to dig into the steak and mash or vege delight, letting the tomato sauce dribble down your arms and onto your lap. Someone pulls out a film camera and snaps you mid-bite. You’ve only budgeted for one meal on the drive up, but the country towns are begging for visitors. You stop in for a schooner at a local pub and stock up at the IGA. Someone smokes a durry outside the public toilet block. 

The excitement mounts as you pull into the venue. The cars are snake around the bend, punters are hanging out their windows smiling and waving and cheering. The nervous energy radiates as you make your way through security and ticket booths.

Hundreds of people are working this festival, staying up late to design interactive sets and write programs that tell stories. They’re donning fluro vests and bum bags and their smiles tell you it’s going to be a good one, that all their energy over the last year has culminated in an event that is worth every penny of your ticket.

~

Festival veterans with a big group of mates know to rock up early. You race in and snag a spot, near the toilets (but not too close) and near to the festival entrance. You haul out your stuff, pitch your tent and your marquee, wrap some lights around the roof and sink into your fold-out chair. You rub your hands together. You made it. Camp looks sick.

You crack open a beer and pull on your outfit. You bought the top from some shop online and borrowed the flared pants from a mate’s brother who has a repository of rainbow costumes. Someone in the group attacks your face with glitter and your lips with coloured lipstick.

There comes a moment where everyone decides to zip up their tent and run into the festival. You’ve befriended your camp neighbours and joined forces, and you’re already eyeing one of them off for a hookup later on. You split off to the stages with the bands you love and promise to meet up later- maybe at that toilet block over there, after the next set? You forget the dead phones and loud music and thousands of people when you make the promise. You have faith that you’ll find them.

You race into the sun.

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You’re watching your favourite band, screaming the lyrics beside your best mates and happy strangers, a cup of beer sloshing in your hand. Tears fill your eyes as you jump and dance and swing your arms with a freedom that reminds you of what it means to be young. There are girls without shirts on and boys with skirts on and nobody cares, nobody cares what you’re wearing and who you are because you’re here for the music, united by the feeling that the drop gives you, assembled because the collection of people on stage with the sweat dripping down their faces, create music that makes you feel something.

We’re here for the art of it all, and we’re committed to two full days of it.

~

Back at camp, in a tired, content slump, you replay the songs and the stage dives over and over. Glitter is caked in the crevices of your smile lines and crusted on your sticky arms. You haven’t showered for two days and you’re not planning to. The toilets are overflowing with sewerage. Your tent is a mess and the beers you’ve brought in are luke-warm. But you’re stoked, you’re fucking stoked. Because you saw those bands, you spent time with your mates and you pashed your camp neighbour.

At the end of the weekend, you push your sleeping bang into its case, roll up your tent and pack your bags. You haul your recycling to the designated rubbish booth and haul your general waste to the other. You’re exhausted, your dead phone’s full of footage and your camera’s full of shots. You’ve got a shirt from your favourite band draped over your body.

You pile into the car, put your head on your mate’s shoulder and fall asleep. You’ve rigorously planned your recovery day tomorrow - naps, greasy meals, a long shower. You’ll be talking about this weekend for months.

You stop in at a different pie shop. You stop in at a different country town. You smile sleepy smiles and reminisce when a song comes on the radio that you heard only days ago.

You get home, sit down in the shower, scratch off the glitter with your fingernails and close your eyes.

What a weekend.

~

We’ve said a teary goodbye to Mountain Sounds and Psyfari and Bohemian Beatfreaks and Secret Garden, and more are expected to close their gates in NSW with new legislation. We don’t want to say any more goodbyes. Sign the petition.

Black History, White Lies: The Day an Aboriginal Man Revealed My Ignorance

Three of us are lying in the back of a rented camper in a carpark by Margaret River in Western Australia. Our noses are buried in books and our legs are twisted around a naked doona we bought from K-mart earlier in the day. We’ve been on the road for about a week now, and are growing more and more comfortable with the light layer of red sand that’s made a home in the roots of our hair.

“Hey girls!” we hear, as a man approaches the van. He looks like he’s in his mid-30s and he’s of Aboriginal appearance. He continues talking like he knows us except we’re not listening. We have never seen this man before and the three of us instinctively rise to protect ourselves as women are prone to do when they are approached by a male stranger.

“Oh, sorry girls. I thought youse was German! No bullshit!”, he says with a friendly smile. “They was drivin’ around in the same kind of van!”

We start making small talk with the man whose name was Malaak and soon we are bounding through the forest behind him searching for hairy marrons, a species of endangered crayfish (“I can’t believe youse ‘aven’t seen ‘em yet!”) and picking bush foods from the shrubs.

“You girls want a feed? We can catch one right now if you want!” he says enthusiastically, pointing down at the hairy marrons in the murky water below.

We can barely keep up in our bare feet and singlets and we didn’t know whether to be excited or wary. Is he drunk? Is that alcohol in the water bottle he is carrying? Are we safe? Should I put a jumper over my singlet? Do we really want to follow him into the bush? What are his ulterior motives?

The hesitations and questions that arise are directly correlated to the racist messaging that has funnelled through media channels since I was a small girl. Ugly stereotypes are swirling about in my subconscious, rising to the surface like a crocodile ready to defend its territory. My territory?

Reminder: his territory.

According to the Reconciliation Barometer’s Key Findings Fact Sheet of 2010, only 9% of Aboriginal Australians believe the media presents a balanced view of them. I will not hesitate when I say that I don’t think those numbers would be very different now, 9 years later.

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After running around the river for a while, we find ourselves squatting on a log jutting out across the river bank. The moon is plump and golden and seems to cloak Margaret River in a kind of ethereal glow.

“Let me tell youse girls some yarns! Wanna hear some yarns?”

We nod eagerly. We’ve never heard a yarn from an Aboriginal Australian, not in a way that wasn’t staged or done for the sake of upholding some kind of image. This is a great honour and we are keen to ask our questions.

As conversation starts to breathe a rhythm, I realise how little I know about the First Peoples. Where were these stories in our classrooms? Where were the Indigenous voices? Where was the emphasis on the true effects of colonisation?

Did you know, in a matter of 30 years in Tasmania, the Indigenous Aboriginal population fell from 5,000-10,000 to 300?

Malaak starts calling us sisters and soon, the local Noongar word for woman. By the end of the evening, he refers to us as spirits because “we’re all one here”.

He tells us that the reason women cannot play the didgeridoo is because the Noongar people believe the vibrations will damage a woman’s reproductive organs.

He tells us that the white fellas, our ancestors, poisoned their rivers and their creeks, so they had to go to the rivers the white fellas claimed as theirs, where they were greeted with guns and death.

“The white people thought we were dumb because we didn’t know their way of life. But we didn’t need a pen and paper to tell us how to look after our land... we’d been looking after it for a long time without their help. The white fellas were our friends at the start, we taught them everything we knew. Then some of them saw the prosperity of the land and got greedy.

Girls, if the land could speak, it would say it doesn’t care about your money.

Australia’s prosperity is on our broken backs.”

Their backs are still breaking. The war is not over.

One in 12 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults belong to the Stolen Generation.

He adjusts his straddle on the log and takes a swig of water.

“People look at me walking through the streets like I’m a foreigner, but this is my home… I still walk down the road and feel the compressed weight of the people saying I’m worthless. Even on paper forms we're a separate nation. "Are you Indigenous or Torres Strait Islander?"”

I’m sorry.

“I wanted to go to the Cronulla riots with my mob with our paint and our didgeridoos and yell “what the fuck are you fighting about? You haven’t made peace with us! The war is still happening here!” That would have really fucked them up, don’t you think? I would have liked to have seen that happen.”

He laughs, nodding up to the sky.

“Australia Day is like celebrating Hitler if he won the war. Australia Day feels like a celebration of war crimes. There has been no treaty, the war is still happening and the wound is still open.”

Change the date.

Aboriginal Australians are 15 times more likely to be imprisoned than non-Indigenous adults.

“You tell me I’m lazy because I don’t work, but you forget we never needed to work. For tens of thousands of years we survived working with nature, not against her. I would happily live out there with nothing. Sometimes I go out there for 2 weeks with nothing but the clothes on my back.”


The Aboriginal rock art in Western Australia’s Dampier Archipelago is at least twice as old as the Pyramids of Egypt.

How quickly he destroys everything I think I know about the history of the place I call home. How dare I expect Indigenous Australians to work and to embed themselves in their invader’s culture? How had I not understood their resentment and frustration until now?

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The more Malaak shares, the more we want to know. He shifts on the log and lets his legs dangle out to the water.

We ask him how he greets the land when he arrives at a new place. He tells us he picks up some earth and throws it towards the wind. Then he listens.

“One click, and you’re safe” he says, and clicks his fingers once.

“Two clicks, and you shouldn’t stay there for the night”.

He clicks his fingers twice and the sound echoes down the river. Beside the log we’re perched on something rustles in the bushes, frightening us, and he smiles. Two clicks.

~

Time seems like a strange commodity when you’re surrounded by nature and immersed in story. Nevertheless, time passes and the late evening breeze sweeps through the river and tickles our tanned bodies. Malaak turns to us and asks one final question:

“Imagine sitting here, on this log hundreds of years ago. What word would you use to describe this?” He turns to the sky of stars with arms outstretched to the river.

There is a pause before I turn to him and whisper, “home”.

He turns to me and nods, "yes, sister, you got it. This is home."

Slowly we scramble off the log and walk back to the van. Somehow our desire to meet cute boys at the local pub seems superficial, there are more important things to think about. 

“You girls want me to tell you some more yarns and show you some good spots tomorrow?” he asks after we hug him goodbye. We arrange to pick him up at 8am the following morning.

~

The following day, Malaak directs us out to the dirt roads that weave through the outskirts of Western Australian towns. We bring him a pie for breakfast from the local bakery. He smiles and thanks us but says “I don’t eat this stuff, but thanks for the thought girls.”

That morning he teaches us how to make bush cordial and catch a goanna and together we make damper over a fire from flour he’s brought in a zip-lock bag.

“Are you sure you don’t have any blackfella in you?” he asks us “’cause this is some of the best damper I ever had!”.

While we’re sitting around the fire, Malaak’s brother calls. We hear muffled sentences from the other end of the line asking him why he’s with white fellas and whether he’s safe.

While the damper cools, he pulls out some paint made from pigments from a sacred Indigenous site not far from where we are. Using sticks by the fire he silently paints artworks on our bodies. He paints a kangaroo on my arm, the spirit animal of his grandfather, a dolphin on my friend’s leg and a goanna on the back of the other.

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He tells us that only one other white fella knows the location of the pigment, and that sometimes they go out bush to sleep under the stars together. “I always keep one eye open though, a white fella in the bush with me. He’s my friend, by I always gotta have an eye open.”

At the end of the day, after spending eight hours circling through dirt roads, pulling up to river beds and swimming in water holes, I ask him what we can do to make things better. If three white women living comfortable lives in one of the world’s most expensive cities can do anything at all. 

“You’re a writer?” he asks me. “Good. You can tell this story. That’s all I ask. All I want is for people to tell our truth. "

~

I would like to acknowledge and pay my respect to the traditional owners of the Noongar boodja past, present and emerging, on which we met Malaak and had the great honour of sharing his spirit. 

2018 in Books

In January of each year, I spend time reflecting on the year before it. Not so much on accomplishments and Major Life Defining Events, but more on the subtleties, and the books that I read in places of comfort and pain. I decided to share my reflections on 2018, a year which radiated with warmth and novelty.

photo cred:  rust-and-repose

photo cred: rust-and-repose

January

I spend the first week of 2018 driving the rugged coastline of Western Australia, swimming in shark-infested waters and watching the honey sun sink into the ocean. I read The Tiger’s Wife by Tea Obreht and a book of essays called Ethics in the Real World by philosopher Peter Singer while my girlfriends do yoga on a beach. I meet an Aboriginal man and he shares stories that have a profound impact on my life.

I fly to Melbourne and finish Station Eleven curled up in bed in a room with high ceilings. I don’t like the book very much. I go on Tinder dates and eat Japanese food and stay in the crumbling back room of a share house of DJs and artists and writers. Most of them wear black and ride skateboards. It rains a lot.

I go on motorbike trips to Jervis Bay and slip into bubbling spas with school friends. I ride my bike through the streets of Wollongong in the nude. I fly back to Melbourne and hike in the Grampians and run a workshop with new clients. I write a lot of sad poetry. My books remain in my suitcase.

February

In February, I finally finish The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf (inaccessible and verbose) and read Tin Man by Sarah Winman after a recommendation by a friend over Instagram. I drive to Byron Bay with a man whose family I stayed with in a windmill in Belgium when I was 19. I read the beautiful and consumable Between a Wolf and a Dog by Georgia Blain on the beach while he is out swimming with dolphins. I spend the following days showing him some of the most beautiful waterfalls Australia’s east coast has to offer.

I spend Valentines Day singing karaoke with some girlfriends, and start juggling a number of casual relationships which last months and are full of spontaneity and hotel rooms. I move back to Wollongong and a day later, fly to Melbourne (again!?), where I spend most of March working 11-hour days in office buildings, finishing my stint in a little blue shack overlooking the Great Ocean Road.

Whenever I lose my reading mojo, I pick up a book by an author I love. I sink into the familiarity of their style, and I’m swept away by their stories. Haruki Murakami is one of my most trusted authors when I’ve lost my mojo, and midway through March I pick up Sputnik Sweetheart and consume it with the usual ease.

“And it came to me then. That we were wonderful traveling companions but in the end no more than lonely lumps of metal in their own separate orbits. From far off they look like beautiful shooting stars, but in reality they're nothing more than prisons, where each of us is locked up alone, going nowhere. When the orbits of these two satellites of ours happened to cross paths, we could be together. Maybe even open our hearts to each other. But that was only for the briefest moment. In the next instant we'd be in absolute solitude. Until we burned up and became nothing.” 

March

With the craziness of Melbourne, and my desire to squeeze in a few pages every night, I read Murakami’s Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World. It is profound and bizarre, and I am desperate to talk to someone who has read it. In each of his books, it feels as though he’s taking words for a dance, swinging them and dipping them in ways I didn’t think they could move.

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I return to Wollongong and in the comforts of my new house by the sea, with good friends, I dig into a book I have been wanting to read for a long time. Breath by Tim Winton. It did not disappoint. 5 stars.

“And somehow, somewhere along the track, I went numb. I couldn’t say what it was and didn’t dare try. How do you explain the sense of being made to feel improper? I withdrew into a watchful rectitude, anxious to please, risking nothing. I followed the outline of my life, carefully rehearsing form without conviction, like a bishop who can’t see that his faith has become an act.” 

I read On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Steven King curled beneath the sheets of my mattress on the floor, as the golden glow from linoleum kitchens paint the street, and the coastal breeze filters through the trees. I am inspired and I spend a lot of March writing.

April

I score tickets to The Book of Mormon on Facebook and drink wine and eat a cheese platter in the darkness of the back rows, crying with laughter, amazed at the similarities between the Mormons and my own upbringing as a young Christian.

There are more meetings and more parties and more conferences. I launch The Gravity of Guilt, the content platform that airs a lot of my hesitations, frustrations and struggles associated with leaving the religion I had upheld my entire life. I read South of the Border, West of the Sun. Another Murakami. Moons, cats and mysterious women make for another consumable read.

I get my provisional driver’s license (finally) and complete Claustral Canyon with harnesses and kind-hearted friends. I speak at an event about the power of social media to mobilise communities. I read American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis and am equal parts astounded and terrified by the human mind. There is so much to this book, and I turn the last page with the desire to start at the beginning and read it again.

“...there is an idea of a Patrick Bateman, some kind of abstraction, but there is no real me, only an entity, something illusory, and though I can hide my cold gaze and you can shake my hand and feel flesh gripping yours and maybe you can even sense our lifestyles are probably comparable: I simply am not there.” 

I read An Open Swimmer by Tim Winton and am disappointed. The genius of American Psycho is still fresh, and I want the next book I read to one-up it. It falls flat.

May

I see one of my favourite authors, Australian Helen Garner, speak at the City Recital Hall. I wear high heels and go by myself and watch an old couple across the Hall read their books in silence until the show begins. My heart yearns.

I read Tim Winton’s new release (signed by the man himself, thank you), The Shepherd’s Hut, which is seeing considerable media attention. It’s quite different from his usual work but I enjoy the grit.

I turn 24. I spend a couple of nights on a houseboat in the Hawkesbury with some girlfriends. We drink champagne for breakfast and jump off the top deck naked and I read Let Them Eat Chaos, a long poem by Kate Tempest, by candlelight, which moves us to tears.

“Hard rain falling,
on all the half-hearted
half-formed
fast walking
Half-fury, half-boredom.
Hard talking.
Half dead from exhaustion.
Hard pushed,
but the puddles keep forming
Don't fall in.”

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I fly to Sri Lanka and spend two weeks catching trains across the country, reading The Beautiful and Damned by Scott Fitzgerald, swimming in the ocean, riding scooters and curling up by fireplaces in the mountains, leaving poems in travellers’ journals. I spend 3 wild days with a German boy, and end up booking a one way ticket to Europe in the intensity of our final hours.

June

June is a peaceful month. There are a few parties, a few motorbike rides up the coast at sundown. I finally finish Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Brazilian educational theorist Paulo Friere. I leave the book tattered, the borders filled with questions and the paragraphs underlined and scribbled in an excited frenzy. Educators and international activists should read this book.

German boy fades, and the flying boy enters in an unexpected gust of wind. We spend the following weeks navigating the boundaries of relationships that arise between two people who spend most of their lives living out of suitcases. There are hot baths and bottles of red wine and beach walks. I don’t pull out a book for the rest of the month.

July

I spend the start of July on the Gold Coast, lazing in a day bed on a house overlooking the beach with my best friends. We swim, we consume wholesome breakfasts and we attempt thrifted puzzles.

I read Come As You Are by Emily Nagoski, a book about female pleasure and sexuality. It drastically changes my relationship with my body. I cry of happiness.

I fly to Melbourne. My best friend and I haul a small table and two chairs, wine glasses and a vase with a solitary flower, into a park beside a main road. We order Indian food and drink red wine, while passing joggers and dog walkers give us a smile. I read The Island Will Sink by Briohny Doyle in the comforts of her bed. A book I found I appreciated long after I read it, but didn’t necessarily enjoy on my initial read.

I drive down to Wilson’s Prom with 4 strangers and one I met on Instagram. We curl up in a little wooden shack and listen to the rain. We climb mountains with windswept hair and jump in puddles formed in the sand.

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It is another quiet month spent with the flying boy, before my inevitable flight to Germany. In my journal I write a list: “warm water in small baths, the feint smell of lemon myrtle, glasses of red wine sitting on the toilet seat, UberEats two hours too late, ute trays and a sky full of stars…”.

I have no plans and no idea what I am going to do in Europe. People keep asking me what I’m “running away from”. I take comfort in the fact that flying boy just so happens to have a flight booked to Germany too, a week later.

August

Ahh, August. On the road. Driving across Europe, no plan and no idea when I’ll book a flight back to Australia. I write about August on my blog. I read Letters to a Young Writer by Colum McCann, author of one of my favourite books of all time- Let The Great World Spin. I read science fiction masterpieces Foundation and Foundation and Empire by Isaac Asimov, as they’re my travel partner’s favourite books. I’ve never been much for science fiction, but biochemist Asimov is a literary and scientific genius.

I read Czech writer Milan Kundera’s book Immortality in a tent an hour out of Prague and sit by a river by myself and write in my journal.

“The purpose of the poetry is not to dazzle us with an astonishing thought, but to make one moment of existence unforgettable and worthy of unbearable nostalgia.” 

September

Another month on the road, another covered on my blog. I make the most of the European summer and swim in as many rivers and lakes in the nude as I can.

I read Swing Time by Zadie Smith as my European journey becomes a solo expedition. The social commentary is strong and quite profound in this one.

“A truth was being revealed to me: that I had always tried to attach myself to the light of other people, that I had never had any light of my own. I experienced myself as a kind of shadow.” 

I read First Person by Richard Flannigan in a tent overlooking the mountains in France. My tent is pitched on a never-ending bed of blueberries, and the rain is slapping the rock faces in a way that makes me fall asleep with a smile. I don’t enjoy the book and decide to finish it later in the month. 1 star.

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I start a Facebook Group for Sydney Exvangelicals off the back of The Gravity of Guilt’s readership and it grows to 120 members. I spend a lot of time reading heartbreaking stories of trauma, guilt and shame. I am comforted by the fact that I am not alone.

October

I read 1929 classic Passing by Nella Larsen and Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood (the author who introduced me to the love of literature) and write about my final month in Europe on my blog. I spend a lot of time swimming in the ocean and having pizzas with friends around the continent.

I write about the sex lives of ex-Christians on SBS VICELAND’s The Feed.

I finally finish surfing non-fiction book Barbarian Days by William Finnegan but don’t enjoy it because I’m not a surfer and the pages and pages of surf conditions seem to dribble on.

November

I buy My Twentieth Century Evening and Other Small Breakthroughs: The Nobel Lecture by Kazuo Ishiguro and The Waterfront Journals by David Wojnarowicz from an independent book shop in London and am not particularly engaged by either of them.

I fly back to Australia and move to a new share house of old friends. I get a stick and poke tattoo of a Leunig character on the dining room table from my housemate while our neighbours scream “fuck you cunt” and “wanna go cunt?” to the cockatoos from their balcony. Pixel, the Italian Greyhound that lives at our house, trotters past unfazed by the abuse.

December

December is a month of reading. A month of adventures with friends and the flying boy and a little bit of tennis, too. I purchase Murakami’s new book Killing Commendatore and consume it with speed on a bed by the sea in Fiji. 4 stars.

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I read Eggshell Skull by Bri Lee on the Gold Coast with a terrible stomach bug and cry. An empowering book that leads me to post letters to the NSW Police Commissioner in regards to sexual assault communications.

I buy my first car and sit on the roof overlooking a beach in Bateman’s Bay and write about the “big clumps of families” and their shadows playing cricket on the beach.

I read Becoming by Michelle Obama because my best friend and I decide we need a new book for our book club. It offers me unique insight into the world of American politics and makes me adore the Obama family even more.

I read Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott as it was lent to me by a friend in a bar. She talks about writing stories for people as gifts, especially those who will soon greet death. I like the idea.

Babies are born and friends build houses and fly overseas. I wrap up the year with a glass of wine, the flying boy, a couple of skateboards and an ocean pool. It’s been a pretty magnificent year.

Letter to NSW Police About Sexual Assault Communications

This letter was posted on December 7, 2018 to two NSW Police offices. I received confirmation of their arrival on December 12 and December 13 of 2018. I heard from the Commissioner on December 21 and have a meeting with him mid-way through January.

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NSW Police Commissioner Michael Fuller,

In 2015, I was a victim of sexual assault. When I reported my rape to an officer at the Police Station in Town Hall, the female officer assigned to take my statement told me she was “excited” as it was her first rape case. I was asked to “lurk him on Facebook” in the kitchenette at the station. After searching your database for a PDF to guide her through the reporting process, the woman resorted to phoning an anonymous officer who guided her through the procedure over the phone. I was then directed to another station where I repeated my statement to two male officers in a small room with the door closed. According to your website, I would be assigned a specially trained officer who deals with victims of sexual assault. Of the three I encountered face-to-face and the anonymous officer on the phone, I don’t know if any were “specially trained”.

I have interviewed over 100 women who have had experience reporting sexual assault in NSW. The most common words used to describe how they felt after reporting was “terrible”, “disappointed and confused”, “distressed”, “traumatised”, “like a stupid little girl” and “like there was no point”.

I wonder how many women and men build the courage to report sexual violence only to leave your stations re-victimised and re-traumatised. I will not stand for a system that fails our survivors and prevents justice from being served to the vile perpetrators of these crimes.  

In your NSW Sexual Assault Strategy Progress Document published in December of 2016, you have recognised that these issues exist and are rigorously evaluating them. You have established a Domestic and Family Violence and Sexual Assault Support Council. You have a Sexual Assault Expert Group. You have multiagency initiatives and advice lines and government services. All necessary and immensely helpful services if executed appropriately and respectfully by trained officers and professionals. I have faith.

But why is this not communicated? Why is progress undocumented for the layman? The public need to know how and why you have changed, because current victims are only hearing stories of the failings of your system and many are choosing to stay silent because of it.  

The last time you mentioned reporting services available for victims of sexual assault on your Facebook Page was in June of 2017. Approximately 1.8% of Australian women have experienced sexual violence since then.

You have a following of over 1.1 million. You are a trusted authority, and the communication is lacking from trusted authorities about what constitutes as sexual violence and what the reporting process entails. I won’t bore you with the possibilities of digital communications at the moment, but with 50% of the Australian population logging onto Facebook each day, you need to be front and centre, communicating the support that is available.  

I am writing this letter asking for a reassessment of your digital communication strategies. Our law enforcers must be model educators. I argue that the best stage for the NSW Police to educate is social media. For an example, look at the effectiveness of using memes as a vehicle to educate young people about road safety on your own Facebook. Of the people you surveyed, 83% said it made them “more informed about police work”.

Use the possibilities of platforms such as Facebook to educate others about the appropriate way to treat others in the sexual context. Tell me how justice will be served to those who don’t. When I left the police station after reporting my assault I was told “nothing will be done”. I want you to tell me what you can and will do. I want you to show me why we should trust you, and what kind of environment awaits us when we no longer feel burdened by silence.

I would love the opportunity to meet and discuss this with you. I have a number of solutions collated by the brave women and men who shared their stories. I am writing not for an automated response from your Customer Care Department or a curtesy phone call. I am writing for a resolution and I represent the voices of thousands.  

Kindly,


Ruby Claire.

10 Lessons From A Year Self-Employed

It’s been a year since I decided to work for myself. I quit my previous job in an erratic act of self defiance, romanticising the millionaire sob story to live my own dreams against a backdrop of improbable success.

With $1000 to my name, not a single client, $4000 of debt and my only mode of transport (a 2001 SR250 motorbike) without brakes, I was well and truly in the deep end of the pool.

I was determined to swim.

My parents offered me 3 generous months rent-free in their garage, where I hauled a second hand kitchen table to the centre of the room, pushed a bed under the dusty, exposed roof and set up shop. If I couldn’t afford rent by the end of 3 months, I was going to go job hunting. That was the deal.

I moved out within the first month thanks to some quick but significant wins. During the year I flew interstate 6 times, went to Sri Lanka for two weeks and spent 3 months driving around Europe. I turned 24, paid off my debt, saved a bunch for travel and managed to spend 4 months working ~8 hours a week. AND NOW YOU TOO CAN BUY MY E-COURSE AND DISCOVER HOW YOU CAN MAKE MILLIONS FROM THE COMFORTS OF YOUR HOME. Jokes. I’m not rich.

But the important thing is, I survived, and I’ve got enough to keep on surviving.

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Here’s a bunch of stuff I’ve learnt thanks to patient and understanding clients. This list looks pretty much identical to any other you’ll find on the internet, but I find that recommendations from people I actually know seem more legitimate. So friends, here’s what I’ve got.

For the record, I’ve been working as a writer/digital marketer/community engagement consultant predominantly in the social impact/education/environment space.

1. The “hustle”

Eugh, I’m so cynical about the word “hustle”, but it’s probably the best word we’ve got to describe exactly what it is. If you don’t enjoy sniffing out opportunities and the constant “I’ve got to find a client this week otherwise I can’t pay rent lol”, then freelancing is not for you. You need the hunger, because it’s the hunger that motivates you to crawl out of bed, open up your laptop, stare at an empty inbox and press “Compose” for the 800th time that week.

It’s also important to use the hustle to upskill so that you can offer your clients more, especially if they’re startups. My lack of graphic design skills have been a real hinderance.

2. The importance of networking

Every time I collect a business card, I write where I meet the person and something interesting about them on the back and file it. Sometimes I run off to the bathroom directly after a conversation at a conference, sitting down on the loo and hurriedly jotting down their favourite sporting team and the fact they have a son.

On the first day of my Brand New Life™, I pulled out all the business cards I had saved over the years, wrote a long list of friends and mentors and proceeded to send everyone a personalised email. I sent about 20 per day at the beginning. Sometimes they were simply “let’s grab a coffee”, while others were more explicit in relation to my service offering. All of them referenced that tiny personal detail from when we first met.

Keep in mind, if you collect business cards from people during events paid for, hosted or attended on behalf of a previous employer, you cannot initiate conversation. I made sure only to reach out to those I had met independent to previous employment. Most employment contracts are pretty explicit about this, so be sure to read the fine print. My previous short-lived job said I couldn’t work for another innovation consultancy company for three years after leaving.

Don’t look at networking as something you have to change yourself for. Just look to befriend interesting people in interesting industries. Share your contacts in a way that you’d hope someone would share theirs with you. This is less about what you can gain and more about what you can offer.

Finally, if you’re a freelance writer, don’t just go to writer-related networking events. If you’re passionate about makeup, go to conferences and trade shows about makeup. Talk to the vendors. Become an expert in the area. If a vendor holder asks you what you do for a living, say that you’re a writer in the cosmetics industry. Ask for their card.

3. Schedule follow up emails

Just because you don’t hear back, it doesn’t mean it’s a no. As soon as I send an email, I write myself a reminder to follow up 7-10 days later. If you’re a service provider, personalised touch-points are incredibly valuable.

4. Pitch ideas you want to execute

If you’ve got a good idea that another company could execute well, pitch it to them. Pitch it in enough detail to land a meeting, win them over with your personality and what you can offer, then send over a proposal to deliver it. I did this with a Federal Politician who wanted someone to run her social media. I came to the meeting with case studies and a half baked idea to do more than just “run social media”. I pitched a concept and ended up writing a strategy, executing a campaign and writing a speech for the House of Representatives.

I’m not worried about people stealing ideas and running with them without me. I just monitor the heck out of them if they do, learn from their failings, and pitch something better to someone else.

5. Ask questions first

If you manage to score a meeting with an individual or company you want to work with, try and spend the first 5 minutes asking them questions and figuring out their pain points. Then you can tailor your response and your service offerings to their pain points, as opposed to shooting in the dark and hoping the way you word your offering lands. 

6. Invest in great project management tools

Set up these structures from day 1. You’ll thank me later.

  • Toggl is amazing for time tracking and it’s free (!!). Make sure you label your tasks so that when a client asks exactly why a particular week or month is higher than others, you can download a report and send it their way. If you’re charging for project-based work, it’s important to track your hours anyway. This way, you can figure out how much you worked per hour based on what you charged, and whether that was fair for you.

  • Asana is incredible for project management and I don’t think I could do life without it now. You can add people to projects, create deadlines, add to do lists and tasks within projects. Amazing. Oh, and it’s also free.

7. Values-driven opportunities

I find it incredibly difficult to concentrate if I’m working on something I hate. I have turned down opportunities purely for this reason, which kept my space free to say yes to opportunities that aligned with my values.

It sucks writing content about things you’re not passionate about. You spend so much time researching and if you’re paid per word, you end up in the red. In contrast, writing content about something you know a lot about means you’re more valuable to the people that hire you, and you have a much higher profit margin because you can pump those words out without having to think too much about it.

8. A mentor is the most valuable thing to have

Meet with them regularly. Stress that you’ll buy their coffee even though they always refuse and beat you to the counter. Listen to them, especially when they scrawl in pen “CHARGE MORE MONEY” (hi Phil). Do the worksheets they send you. Value the people they introduce you to. Remember that their reputation is on the line as well.

It’s easy enough to find a mentor. Find someone in your life that you know, or know of, or are connected with on LinkedIn and simply ask them. Slide into those DMs. Ask them for coffee because you have some questions about their industry. Keep meeting them for coffee. Most of the time, the relationship will form organically.

Make sure to give back and mentor others when you’re ready. Be the person you wish you had when you were starting out.

9. Know why you charge what you do

People will question you on it. Be prepared to break it down, especially if you’re working for SMEs. Deduct tax, deduct super, deduct HECS payments, reinstate your years of experience, reinstate how much they’re saving by hiring you as opposed to hiring someone on the books. Stress your flexibility and (if true) your out of office hours access. 

10. Subtly allude to your other skills in emails

“Sorry I can’t make it Tuesday! You mentioned you were struggling getting bums on seats - I work in digital marketing if you haven’t explored that avenue yet. Happy to help :)”. A little line like this has been surprisingly helpful and quite an organic way to provide a service to a client. Choose when to use this wisely.

~

There’s a false illusion that being a freelancer is smooth sailing. In truth, I built up to becoming a freelancer for years, albeit unintentionally. Your networks are your strongest asset.

I wanted to live a particular lifestyle and I didn’t know of an employer who would afford me that. So I carved my own. The current employment landscape is giving us unprecedented freedom to do so, so I grabbed the opportunity and ran as fast as I could. What a ride!

If you have any questions, or want an e-intro to someone, I’ll do what I can to help. Slide into my DMs.

Yours in love and procrastination,

Ruby

VISUAL DIARY | Month 3 in Europe

I’m sitting in a cafe in a little town just outside Swansea, Wales. The sky is grey, The Temptations are playing and I’ve got a mozzarella, tomato and pesto panini on the way. I’m here visiting some Welsh friends. I met these guys in Thailand, ran into them in a cafe in Laos a couple of months later, partied with them in Melbourne, lent a car to them in Byron and lived close to them on the northern beaches in Sydney. I’d heard enough about Wales over the years, so naturally it was on the list for this Euro trip.

The beginning of the third month was spent in San Marino, the world’s oldest republic, situated on the top of a mountain overlooking Italy. I spent the evenings settling around a fireplace, reading books, drinking milk and tea, beside two European friends and their dog.

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We spent our days hiking mountains and eating from tables overflowing with carbs and red wine, on beaches playing cards and eating burgers.

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I picked up Polish and Nigerian hitchhikers, hiked in Switzerland and built a fire beside hidden army shacks in the mountains, making bread and cooking sausages and melting chocolate in the middle of bananas over hot coals. 

I drove up to Berlin, staying in Airbnbs and having long baths along the way. I dropped the car off and bussed to Rotterdam and ate Thai food in bed with an old friend. We rode bicycles and watched movies and sat in the park near the university I studied at.

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I bussed to London and hitched a ride with friends to Wales. We played cards on cliffs and cards in lounge rooms. We watched New Zealand films and ate Tony’s Chocalonely. We swam in the ocean and threw a ball on the sand. We ate Joe’s Icecream. 

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I booked a flight home, because the sky started turning grey and I had a time sensitive project to execute in Australia. I scheduled in catch ups with friends I’d met on the internet and friends from home and I packed my bags for my final week in London.

This short-lived trip went by in a flash, but what a time it was.

VISUAL DIARY | Month 2 in Europe

25/8/18 - 25/9/18
Copenhagen (Denmark) | Berlin, Gransee (Germany) | Gembloux (Belgium) | Tours, Lyon, Mondragon, Mauguio, Cabrepsine, Vougeot, Oz (France) | Cantabria, Madrid (Spain) | Milan (Italy) 

I haul myself out of my motel bed at 11:30. I was supposed to get up at 7 and drive 2 and a half hours to do a 7-hour hike, but I decided to wallow in bed instead. It’s the inevitable slump. It often arrives when you’re alone, some place new, without the comforts of home. I sink into it pretty badly when I’m travelling, spending hours of daylight in bed, frustrated that I have to leave to find food and vowing to stock up for next time. 

I wander out of the motel unshowered and bare-foot and start hauling clothes from the boot of the car, all of which have been scattered from font to back, mixed with dirty t-shirts and muddy hiking boots. The pegs are falling out of the tent bag and my muesli has managed to sprinkle its way through everything as well. Goddamnit. 

I look up and realise the french lady in the dark sun glasses with a phone pressed to her ear and a cigarette between her lips is looking at me with eyebrows raised. She probably thinks I’m going through a rough time, especially with the state of the car and my poor sense of personal hygiene. I revel in her assumptions. She has no idea I’ll write about her on the internet later and that someone else, way over in Australia, will probably read about it.

I drive into the city of Lyon in France. I stick up a sign on the back windscreen that says “Sorry for my driving, I’m Australian” after one too many beeps and hurried overtaking from frustrated Europeans.

It’s my second month in Europe. It began in Copenhagen, watching the flying boy from home compete in the World Championships in what will be my only experience of VIP ever.  I drank booze and got to wear a yellow lanyard.

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I swum in the river in Gransee and jumped out of a plane just above it, strapped to the flying boy who coaxed me through the process with a kind, reassuring voice. I tried to tell myself that this skydive would be different, that I wouldn’t feel like emptying my guts in the sky like the first time I did it, but my blue lips told a different story. 

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I spent a late night in a sheisha bar, trying to smoke rings, winning round upon round of backgammon until luck turned against me. On the final night in Berlin, I went to a karaoke bar with new friends and stumbled my way through Destiny’s Child’s “Survivor” on stage. Old men sung Bon Jovi. Boys in turtlenecks sung Black Eyed Peas and Beyonce. Fiery women with jet black bangs sang Florence and the Machine. Someone got naked in a karaoke booth that swirled with cigarette smoke. Sweat was dripping down everyone’s faces. It was glorious. 

Then the drive from Berlin to Madrid happened. All the way down the continent. The first few nights were spent in Belgium seeing an old friend, who palmed beer after beer into every empty hand he saw. Flying boy and I spent the evenings curled up in the top of a renovated windmill overlooking the countryside, watching the fog roll over the farmland in the mornings. 

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We had BBQs, heard stories and ran amuck with the kids who, despite the language barrier, communicated incredibly well with noises and animated faces.

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Then to France and on to Spain. Lots of red wine. Lots of baths. Most of the time, red wine in baths. 

Coastal walks, expansive beaches, old buildings, amazing seafood food and litres of sangria. Spain was so good to us as I said a big, drunken goodbye to my travelling companion in a nice hotel, with red wine and high heels and lipstick. Sometimes, you should dress up as fancy as you can, just for the hell of it, and if you have no money, find the cheapest thing in the closest street and eat there. That’s exactly what we did. 

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~

Now alone, with my podcasts and playlists, I drove across Spain and up the east coast, sleeping in the car on the side of the highway while a thunderstorm commandeered the sky. I had to pull off because I couldn’t see the road anymore- the rain was so heavy, the lightning like a strobe light.

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I drove up to the mountains in France and rented an Airbnb in a tiny town with no shops. I stayed there for 4 days, spread out my stuff, pranced around naked and wrote a lot of words. It was a little stoney cave with grapes growing over the awnings on the balcony just outside, where I sat and devoured an entire watermelon with a spoon.

I drove further north and found a secluded spot by a river in a small town and set up camp. In the morning I hopped over the pebbles to have a bath while early rising locals looked on from the other side of the river, somewhat confused.

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I continued moving up the country. I sat in a cafe and drank fresh orange juice and met a couple and their 4-year-old son (who could speak 3 languages in 4-year-old proficiency) who had ridden their bicycles through Mongolia and South America for a year, living out of their tent and the odd motel. They bestowed their wisdom and their home address, offering their place by the sea as refuge from my increasingly dirty car. People who have roughed it on the road always know how to host. 

The man said something interesting midway through our conversation, as we were talking about why some people can “up and go” and why others feel like they have to stay, burdened by responsibility, sitting on their phones late at night, scrolling through lives they want but feel they can never have, or can’t have “yet”. He said:

There are two different types of people in the world. People who write a list of things holding them back, and people who write a list of things they have to deal with in order to get to where they want to go. For the most part, both of them have the same things on their lists. Unless you’re a person with a disability, or you are in significant financial strife, or you are looking after a sick friend or family member or you have a bunch of kids, it’s usually the same things. Mortgage. Study. Partner. Car. Community…

Again, I moved further north, this time to have lunch with one of my mentors from home. She’s been my mentor since grade 10 (she took me in my first taxi and to my very first office where people wore suits), so it was wonderful to wine and dine with her family in France. Days later I received a confirmation email stating that I had been selected for the Chairman’s Committee for the Commonwealth Youth Council, a two-year commitment serving 1.2 billion young people around the world. This kick started a series of plans for 2019 which look equal parts challenging and rewarding.

And then I turned around. Went back down through France. Pulled over on the side of the road, climbed down to a river I’d been following. I stripped down, ate salad, washed my hair and read my book while the sound of highway cars wooshed by.

I continued driving, following the furthest road I could find on the map at the top of the French Alps. I camped nestled amongst blueberry bushes and rock cliffs, and read all night while the rain battered down on my tent. It sounded like a family was walking past in thongs.

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Now I’m in Milan, Italy, lying in a hostel while a dirty load of washing gets soapy. I ran out of clean underwear a few days ago.

I have a number of friends I spent many sticky 45-degree Aussie days picking peaches with when I was freshly 18 living in San Marino, and so that is my next destination.

Until then,

Ruby x

Growing Up in Australia’s Backyard

You’re 8 years old. You’re home from another tough day at primary school learning about ancient Egypt and you’ve got no ice left in your water bottle. It’s 40 degrees.

You burst through the door, throw your school bag in the corner of the room and kick off your black Payless lace-ups. Noni and her sunflower pants are talking to you from the television, but you don’t feel like Playschool today. Your friends are already outside riding their bikes.

Mum yells “be home when the street lights turn on!” from the kitchen as you race past, picking up a handful of pikelets and jam on the way.

You hobble over the grass as the bindies prick into the soles of your feet. You spot lizards and snails and caterpillars everywhere. Where were they hiding when you built your shoebox mansion for them last weekend? You yank your bicycle from the retaining wall and kick off, hoping your neighbours down the road will let you swim in their pool.

It’s summer time, which means it’s two-minute showers and recycled laundry water running through Bunnings tubes in the garden. Bath water must be scooped out with a bucket and poured onto the pot plants. Can’t waste anything now, can we little wombat?  

On the weekends, you sit in the back seat cradling your bucket and spade. Mum’s already swiped zinc all over your nose and your rashy seems tight around the arms. Mum just looks over and says “you’re getting so big now!” but doesn’t let you take it off. Dad smokes a ciggy from the driver’s seat. 

At the pink ice-cream truck in the carpark overlooking the expansive sea, you clutch a choc-top between your hands. It’s dripping down your arms, down your legs, down into your thongs. “Run along to the shore now” says Mum. “Clean your feet in the shallows - leave your shoes here!”. Over the hot cement you run. Hot pavers. Hot feet. Run, run, run you little barefooted creature! The sand is no refuge- head to the ocean, quick smart!

The siren sounds; there’s a shark not far away. The people mill out of the water begrudgingly. Kids grab hold of their beach balls, lovers pause their canoodling, Dad puts down his little yellow spade and counts his children who lost their enthusiasm for sand castle building a long time ago.

Sandy-haired surfers take their time padding to shore, trying to catch a glimpse of the fin, sitting in the shallows with their boards until a lifeguard yells through a speaker to get out. You can usually only drag a surfer out of the water if you promise them a choccy milk and a burger with the lot. Pineapple and beetroot? Of course, are you crazy?

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The drive home takes a long time. Everyone is tired and grumpy, despite the bucket of shells collected for the crafts you’ll never finish. You build a wall of pillows between your sister because you don’t want her touching your side of the car. In fact, you want to make it impossible for her to even get a glimpse out your window. You both throw punches in the safety net of cushion and scream at each other. Mum and Dad sigh a lot, too exhausted to interfere. 

Someone needs to go to the toilet, really badly, despite being 15 minutes from home. Dad pulls off at the next rest stop and someone runs to the bathroom to pee, holding their nose and taking a breath before rushing into the drop hole toilet cubicle. Don’t look down, you don’t want to fall in!

When you get home, Mum says you have to do jobs. You pull the towels off the hills hoist, letting the pegs fall to the ground, and hope this is enough to secure your gold coin pocket money at the end of the week. Last you heard the newsagent had been re-stocked with ghost drops.

On school holidays, you go on road trips. It seems like the right thing to do. There are more pillow walls and nose-holding drop toilets. There are Vegemite sandwiches and blackcurrant Life Savers and “I’m thinking off an animal starting with B”.

In the car, your Mum hands over a paper map of the coast showing you where you’ve been. You realise the 5 hours of driving you’ve just sat through has barely left a dent. Australia is big, but you can’t comprehend the size just yet. To you, Australia is the whole world.

Your parents pitch a tent. They manage to argue about it in low voices even though you’ve watched them successfully pitch the tent hundreds of times before. You spend the afternoon collecting firewood, fearful of brown snakes lurking under logs, trying to stamp your feet as hard as you can because, turns out, snakes are blind. It’s all about the vibrations. Stamp, stamp, stamp. 

The kookaburra sitting in the gumtree laughs while the family gather round the fire, pushing potatoes wrapped in silver foil into the embers and toasting marshmallows on long sticks. After dinner, Dad leans back into his fold out chair and announces he’s “fuller than a state school bike rack”.

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You spend the days at the beach again. Collecting more shells, building more sandcastles. Mum reads a lot of books and Dad naps. You find other kids to play with and all the parents smile at each other, thankful for the break. The kids are finally old enough to play on their own. 

On the last day the sky is turning a dark grey, so you start packing up the tent. Dad tries to hustle everyone along and says “come on kids, we’re not here to fuck spiders” and Mum looks at him with wide eyes while she’s folding the beach towels. You don’t really know what fucking spiders means, you just know that ‘fucking’ is something you shouldn’t say when Mum’s around.

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The summer storms in Australia are big and bold and scary. The dogs always run away and the sky is always black. Dad makes you run around the house and turn off the computer and switch off all the plugs, just in case. You flop on the couch and yell to no one in particular that you’re bored. Mum tells you “only boring people are bored”. You tell her you don’t mind being a boring person, you’re still facing the problem of being bored.

Sometimes, when it hails, you run outside and gather the biggest piece of hail you can find and wedge it in the back of the freezer. You always forget about it until it’s your turn to haul the box of Sunny Boys out on the next 40-degree day.

Then you turn 9. 10 comes around quickly too. Then 11, 12, 13. Puberty arrives. You don’t go outside as much because you’re nervous about your new lumps and bumps and hair. Soon, you’re a teenager, and now you’re, well, you’re you.

You’ve grown up. You’re no longer that 8-year-old kid. But it’s almost summer in Australia. There are 8-year-old kids all over the country with faces ready for a smear of zinc, feet ready for salt water kisses and fearful eyes ready for stormy black skies.

Are you as excited as I am?

~

1 | brotherfish, 2 | yourpaleocean, 3 | debrismeetsthesea