It has been a few years since that first, glorious, six-month trip around and across Australia. However, as soon as I had gotten my new writing career off and running, I headed back. I can’t stay away for too long. I do realize that part of the magic is that in Australia, all I’m doing is traveling — no job, no housework, just get out into the wilderness and immerse myself in the beauty and wildness of this remarkable land. But that is not the only thing, because I have vacationed many other places, and nowhere else has really captured me the way Australia did. So I keep going back.
Some things have changed. I note in my book that we could see the markers in Kakadu showing that things were scheduled to be “improved.” They have been. There is a hotel now at Cooinda where I had slept so peacefully beneath the stars. Boardwalks have been added in a few of the places in the Red Centre where we had to scramble and climb. The cities are bigger. And yet the things I love about Australia remain unchanged — primarily, the ease with which one can escape into the wilderness. I have returned to the rainforests, to the rugged coasts, and, of course, to the outback. I’ve seen places I promised myself for “next time,” and returned to places I love. Soon, I’ll begin recording those return trips, with photos and tales gathered on each adventure. Before then, I want to share a few bits of Aussie culture that I found delightful — music, poetry, history.
Now, however, I’ll just mention a few more changes — ones not mentioned already in posts on this blog. The contents of the Geological and Mining Museum that I loved so much in Sydney have all been transferred to the Power House Museum. So if you look for the museum I named, you won’t find it, but you can still find the wonderful minerals and displays of gold history. The place in the Argyle Center where I bought the golden wattle perfume has closed. I have found other perfumes that call themselves golden wattle, but never again one that smelled so perfectly like the wattles blooming in the mountains. On the other side of the continent, in Fremantle, the convict-era prison was at long-last decommissioned, and it is now a museum.
The food scene, while great when I first visited, keeps on improving. Australia never had a shortage of great eating options, what with the ocean so close at hand for most of the country, the warm weather offering glorious year-round produce, proximity to Asia and a migrant population contributing to the wonderful variety, and wine regions just about everywhere one turns. But since that first trip, more and more up-scale places have opened, and Australia is now a major foodie destination, with truffles and wagyu beef, and cutting-edge chefs taking advantage of all that land and sea have to offer. In fact, my second trip back, it took a bit of effort to find a humble meat pie — but I did succeed.
The cities are still handsome, and most offer delights not available on my first trip. However, most of what I enjoyed is still there, from the historic buildings to the great zoos, museums, and galleries to the ethnic diversity to the open-air markets.
Leave the cities behind, however, and nothing has changed. The land is still huge and open and compelling. I got farther out with each subsequent trip, seeing more beauty and wildlife, and falling more in love with “back of beyond.” As I wrote near the end of Waltzing Australia, “I wondered again, as I have wondered before, why this place moves me so. I am drawn to the remoteness, to the vigor, the fierceness, and the unfettered innocence of this land, and its spirit whispers to my spirit, and its song sings in my veins. I don’t know if this is cause or effect, but I do not need to know. I simply surrender myself to the pleasure of feeling it one more time.”
And each time I leave, I hope there will be “one more time.”