Australia: South of Eden

What? What? Don’t look at me like that, you. I know I haven’t been writing much recently, and I’m sorry, alright? I am sorry. I’ve been dreadfully busy fluctuating between absolutely smashing life and being absolutely smashed by life. I am in Melbourne now, apparently. Not sure when that happened, but there you go.

Now, I don’t remember where I last wrote up to in these silly diaries. Of course I could throw open my last article and check, but I cannot be bothered, so we’ll just plip down any old place and hope that everything is cohesive-ish.

[Oh GOD it’s good to be able to write freely – I’ve been writing my book day in, day out for weeks, months, and I adore the process but you can’t really go off on mad tangents and heckle your readers just because you had too much coffee and you’ve temporarily lost your mind – which I have, obviously. ANYWAY.]

I left my hostel, I left the farm, I left the bush. Goodbye, bush. That was eight days ago now. It hurt even more than I knew it would, but I didn’t feel scared. I think there is too much up for grabs at the moment for fear. I’m not scared at all of the future. Leaving the hostel was rough, but there was nothing else for it. Everybody was beginning to make plans to move on; we’d spent three and a half months all cooped up together, and slowly, though none of us wanted it to end, each of us felt the gentle yet insistent hand of life and fate and future tugging us away. I was one of the last to go.

I stopped working at the farm a few weeks back because I was tired of their sub-minimum wages and general disdain for their entire workforce. People were getting fired on the daily for minor discrepancies – conveniently, the ones who got fired were the ones who spoke up about how unethical the farm was in regards to its workers. Well bloody hell, I am a backpacker, I am skint, but I have enough dignity to walk away with nothing rather than scrabble around in the dirt for loose change. It felt good to move on.

But I miss the hostel. I miss Ben and Seth. I miss all the others too, of course, but Ben and Seth are two of the loveliest, funniest, most original human beings I have met in a very long time – on this entire trip around the world, certainly. Fourteen weeks spent sharing a room with them was joyous, every single day. I never got up sad, I never went to bed sad. It wasn’t complicated, nothing was. I was happy.

That’s the big takeaway from those beautiful months: I understand now. In Berlin I had blasts of joy, yeah, but day to day, I’m not sure I was happy. I was thinking too much, remembering, regretting, worrying, blagh. But the bush was so still, there was nothing to do at all, and finally I was able to steadily work through the sizeable hillock of refuse in my head. You see, for years now I have been wandering around the world at a snail’s pace on some odd, ill-defined solo quest for… I dunno… fun? Inner peace? Glory? Growth? Adventure? Or… happiness?

Well, after leaving the hostel, it’s all become so teeth-kickingly obvious. A pattern has emerged, five years in the making. I have lived in enough cities and started my life over enough times to have noticed the peaks and troughs of my happiness, my good years and my dark ones. And oh, it’s so clear, it matters not the place nor the pace of life, but the people I am surrounded by. I need good friends to be at peace. I need a fucking strong circle of mates who I see often. In Berlin, trying to keep a solid, consistent circle of pals was like herding cats, and I guess it got to me after a while. So yeah, that’s what makes me the happiest in the world. Mates. Travel and adventure are nice and all, but without your best pals to share it with, it’s all a bit of a waste, isn’t it?

A caveat: I know that ‘I like having friends’ is a fucking lame epiphany, alright? I know. But I always viewed losing all my mates over and over again as I travel as something that just sort of… happened; a price to pay for seeing the world. In the arrogance of my early twenties I thought that leaving friends behind as I roamed was a sign I was evolving, growing, becoming more worldly. But though I have seen wondrous things, I have rarely felt as perfectly complete as I did during that beautiful summer three years ago when I lived with my best friends in sunny old Sheffield, sitting in beer gardens on bank holidays dreaming up grand schemes for the future.

But those days are behind me now, and so my days at the farm have passed as well.

It’s funny how, once you sense the end approaching, you become ultra-aware of every little thing you took for granted. Seth’s silly wit, his nigh-invisible sardonic comments to those who didn’t know him well enough to tell if he was speaking in earnest. Ben striding around day-drunk twirling an axe, and his magnificent four-hour breakfast sessions. Minh’s mad teenage energy, leaping on me to wake me up at 6am every morning, and the constant flow of innuendos and that’s-what-she-saids. Koen’s comic frustration when trying to coordinate the evening meal with Kata, yelling and laughing at each other, always frantically trying to locate the mayonnaise.  Lazy days with Jeanne learning French and teaching her obscure English swear words, then watching the sun go down from ragged old sofas. The last couple of days felt like I was on the green mile, my days numbered, staring around me with wide eyes seeking to cram every sound, smell and sight into my greedy heart to keep forever.

Ben, Minh, Koen, Jeanne and Seth drove me out of town on my last day, rumbling down the seventeen kilometre dirt track of Paddy’s Flat Road one last time. It was raining; of course it was raining. We dropped Jeanne in Tabulam as we hadn’t enough room in the car to go onto proper highways legally. I hugged her goodbye, told her I’d see her soon, and watched her sat on a bench outside an old cafe, growing smaller out of the back window of the car. We drove on to Lismore; I didn’t speak much. Minh asked how I was feeling and I said numb. It’s funny, I talked so much shit at the hostel that it reached the point where if I was quiet for more than five minutes people would begin asking me if I was okay.

We made it to Lismore within five minutes of the bus leaving, and I hugged everyone goodbye in turn. I told them I wasn’t going to say anything soppy, because they already knew it all. We laughed, told each other to fuck off one last time, and I bought my bus ticket. They waved until the bus started to move off, and when we accelerated down the road I looked back and saw them walking back to the old white estate, talking and joking among themselves as usual. I knew they’d be playing music and laughing all the way back to the hostel, home, and that night there would be drinking and games and family meals and silliness. I took a deep breath and felt my eyes begin to sting. I put my headphones in and played a familiar song as the bus wound through the countryside. I swallowed away the sadness, and thought about the future. I was headed south.

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