Wine and Karri trees

The last time I travelled almost 300kms by road* I ended up in the capital city of another country, exchanging one language, monetary system and culture for another. This time I swapped the dramatic cliffs, pine forests, snowy fields and deep fjords for endless sweeping fields, flame coloured native christmas trees and towering forests. Rather than north we went south, stopping in at places known by the locals as ‘Bunners’, ‘Busso’, ‘Cow Town’ and ‘Margs’, proving that even within the same country, a language can change.

Margaret River, or Margs, is WA’s best known wine region, full of vines, big wineries, boutiques, chocolate stores and restaurants. Within minutes of sampling a local Cab Sav** you can be swimming on white sandy beaches or surfing in legendary beaches, or descending into ancient caves to see towering forms and fossils. If this sounds like I’m writing copy for a tourist magazine, keep in mind that when describing this area, it’s hard not to wax lyrical. Plus for a WA woman who has been to other, more famous regions, I maintain the right to be proud of the work of my fellow WA folk, from a state where we are not usually known for creating fine wine, art and culture. As we tasted Shiraz and Petit Verdot, chatted with the owners of the little, boutique wineries and drove along the tree lined, rural roads, it felt like another land where the days of indulgence and sun would meld into each other, and where we forgot about the days to come after the holiday. It was not this way for the whole of the holiday however.

We arrived in Busso with rain clouds dragging behind us, fat and sleepy from the food and relaxation of christmas, ready to drop our stuff and get started on the holiday mood. On our first and only stroll to the beach, just behind our accommodation, the clouds opened up and wind howled, sending us back to our rooms questioning our plan for an afternoon swim. Heading into town for groceries and dinner we went to have a walk on the jetty, which at almost 2kms long is the longest wooden jetty in the world.

Clouds approaching the jetty

Clouds approaching the jetty

Despite the intention to trek the whole length, the weather again conspired against us and with sheets of rain drove us back to our car, laughing and dripping. We dried out over dinner at a pub, and fell asleep almost before our heads hit the pillows, barely noticing the raucous chatter of our new neighbours.

The first full day had been planned sometime before, and so we headed off fairly early to our appointment at a jeweller, where we got a reality check and a day to think things over. After which we scoured the Margaret River breweries for a free table and eventually fed ourselves, lining our bellies for the wine to come. A chocolatier and a few boutique wineries followed in a haze of deliciousness and an edge of tipsiness, ending at a brewery that had just the right mix of casual and quality, and brought about a heart to heart and a happy glow to the end of the day. The glow extended as we happily contemplated our haul of wines that evening, and enjoyed a few glasses over our picnic dinner.

How do you know that a decision you make while on holiday, when your tastes run a certain way, and when you know that they could change, is the right one? Especially when it’s something that you will, quite literally, carry with you for the rest of your life? This is what we did on the next morning, confirming the order and walking out feeling simultaneously buoyed and flummoxed. It was done and there was no going back. From the forests of Yallingup, which translates as ‘The place of love’ in the Indigenous language, we followed winding roads to the Wardan Cultural Centre, where we were able to meet someone wonderful. We took a tour with her and her daughter, where we were shown the trees, flowers and fruits that her people have survived off for tens of thousands of years. We tasted the balga and the snakebush berries, and chewed peppermint tree leaves, and learnt of the sheoak and how to make a moi moi. Most of all we got to spend time with an elder who knew herself and her land, and was as much a natural leader as anyone else I have ever met. It was a privilege to hear her speak about survival, joke about people she’d met and watch her daughter learn, the girl’s eyes following everything and completely comfortable in her place.
I hope to be able to go on one of the survival camps she runs one day, so I can learn how to survive on the land that I call home. Even after most of my life lived in it, I couldn’t live on it.

From the life and tranquility of the bush we continued to sample wines, lunch in Margaret River and make our way further down south. The landscape changed from Marri and Jarrah forest, to Jarrah with absurdly tall, Dr Seuss-like balgas, paperbark swamps and recently burnt scrublands. In time we began to spot the trees that I love most of all, tall, white trunks sticking out among the old marri trees. They are the tallest trees I have ever seen, and when they fill the forest in looks like a haphazard temple, the columns and green canopy unmoving as we pass underneath.

Panorama from our cabin

Panorama from our cabin

We stayed at a well known resort just before Pemberton, where we had also enjoyed our first ever getaway holiday years before. In a cabin overlooking the artificial lake, with the rushing of the waterfall and the stately karri forest reflected in the water, it was another world.

Beedelup falls

Beedelup falls

It was a world that we shared with the wildlife, including ring necked parrots that didn’t take any encouragement to gobble the seeds that I put out for them. The resort provided them as an alternative to the bread and snacks and would otherwise make the birds sick, and they clearly knew the drill, warbling to bring in the whole gang as soon as the seeds appeared.

The local gang

The local gang

They also knew where the seed was coming from, and had a go at opening the plastic container with the seeds before I hid it, then watching me with eyes that were a bit too knowing. When no more seeds appeared, they moved on to the next sucker with a final squawk and beady stare.

Can I have another?

Can I have another?

Our own dinner was a more civilized affair with less mess, and without wifi or internet connection we were able to relax and enjoy the scenery and peace of the lake. All too soon we had to leave, with a hot, filling breakfast in our bellies and a few hundred kms of road ahead of us.

Morning view

Morning view

Before turning north, however, we couldn’t leave without properly seeing the karri trees and so I had my first go at proper off-road driving, albeit in an old Volvo.

Old growth by the river

Old growth by the river

A karri valley

A karri valley

Going off-road among the karri

Going off-road among the karri

The track wound down to a river, and through magnificent old growth forest, ending at the 75 metre tall Bicentennial Tree. It can be climbed with metal spikes covered by a net, which I didn’t attempt, despite what must have been an amazing view.

The Bicentennial Tree

The Bicentennial Tree

Leaving the beautiful trees and ancient forest behind, we went north, stopping for lunch, and an ice-cream at a lavender farm. We of course visited one final winery, an old favourite that didn’t disappoint, and so it was that we arrived home satisfied, laden with wine and chocolate and dreaming of the forest that awaits the next holiday.

* By strange coincidence, the distance between Göteborg and Oslo, and my home and Margaret River is exactly 293 kms.
** Cabernet Sauvignon, for non-Australians

Places visited:
House of Cards Wines
Gabriel’s Chocolate
John Miller Design
Ashbrook Wines
Cape Grace Wines
The Beer Farm
The Cheeky Monkey Brewery
Wardan Aboriginal Cultural Centre
Thompson Brook Wines
Balingup Lavender farm

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In the garden

While living in Sweden, all I had to offer plants was a balcony and windowsills, not the best environment for growing. Something that I was looking forward to when we returned to Australia was the ground that would be free for me to use for whatever greenery I wanted. Images of cascading nasturtiums, tomato plants weighed down by fruit, natives adding colour and food for bees. 

Now, about 2 months after being back, these plans are underway. An aspect of gardening that I hadn’t considered properly was patience. A watched seed doesn’t sprout. 
I expected the sun and earthy vibrancy of Austalia to launch the little seedlings into life, growing obediently up trellises and across rocks. 

Plants need time, and at least in the case of snap peas, someone willing to encourage them daily to grow up the trellises I carefully made for them. 


The little reaching trendrils twist in the air, around themselves into tiny fists, and sometimes around the poles and other tendrils, going sideways and upwards. Every day a branch extends out into midair, and is poked back, tendrils twisted around the trellises with the hope that this time it’ll cling on. 

In the shade of the peas the thyme seedlings slowly grow. Getting less and less light as the peas grow, I’ll have to move them soon, before they’re completely covered.
Behind the pea trellises dwarf beans are shooting out of the soil, encouraged by the sun and rain this week, growing at about a cm a day. At this rate they’ll be climbing the back fence in a couple of weeks, and maybe even giving me some return for dinner and snacks.

Rocket plants taken from my mum’s garden have also been heading upwards fast, and are now collapsing under their own weight, hopefully ready to seed and start again. A salad for the warmer week ahead is waiting in their thick leaves.

Elsewhere zinnias and lavender grow, providing for the bees and birds that hover around. Nasturtium shrubs, planted many weeks ago, are clinging on in the rocky, sandy soil, new leaves showing that they haven’t given up yet, though it’ll be sometime before they spread uncontrolled over the rockery, bright flowers blooming.

By the protection of the house, geraldton wax and red leschenaultia slowly thrive, their hardy and vibrant flowers very typical of the dry, harsh but giving conditions of the south west. A boronia bush waits to spread, strawberry seedlings hold in their fruit and a native berry bush grows up towards the light.

There is greenery, colour and in the future fruit, but like settling in to your old home and life, it takes time.

The hills and folks

It’s been 3 weeks since we arrived back in Australia, and there’s a lot to take in and share. So I’m going to start small.

I like going on regular runs, preferably first thing in the morning when the air is clear and I can avoid having two showers. Wherever we lived in Göteborg I was able to find a path through a forest, or through town to a creek or around a beautiful lake. I relied on the surroundings to do part of the work of getting me running everyday, to see the seasons pass, the geese return from their winter migration and the berries ripen. I loved the lake most of all, regardless of the season or weather.

A brief moment of sun

Kåsjön

Now I’ve found myself in the hills where I grew up, among forests that would be best described as green and rough, and still familiar as family. Up here (for a relative value of up) the soil is rusty red and gravelly and the trees gnarled. In winter the dust isn’t able to settle so the leaves are glossy green and fragrant, and grasses and weeds are flourishing in the forests and gardens. It’s the best time of year to go on morning runs, before the heat starts to set in and there’s enough chill in the easterly winds to cool the sweat. I’ve started a routine, heading up the hill before turning so I can run partly downhill home, each day going slightly further. The gravel can be tricky and the path is never really flat or straight, swinging around corners and up and down slopes all the way, but I’m starting to learn it.

Morning run

Morning run

I’ve passed many people during my runs, walking dogs or cycling, and all have smiled and said good morning, as it has always been done up here. No longer do I make brief eye-contact and then glance away, concerned at breaking the unspoken Scandinavian code of personal space. That bubble of personal space is much reduced here, and the edges blurred. Strangers strike up conversations on train platforms, locals stare more openly at those who are different, acquaintances make comments that would be rude elsewhere and the young move easily forward to help the elderly. I have also discovered a liking for banter in public, something I’d always felt awkward about. Short questions and greetings have become chats, easy and comfortable, the slang and accent coming back to me bit by bit.

Hovea Falls

Hovea Falls

It feels new and old at the same time, the mundane now a little bit exotic and what was familiar a month ago now foreign.

Old pub in Fremantle

Old pub in Fremantle

Leaving and landscapes

So we’re going, and as with any big decision it seems that the most overwhelming aspect is not the looming of the event itself but the minutiae of preparing.

What do we take, what do we leave, when do we leave, who do I leave my fledgling lemon trees to – these questions keep overwhelming the importance of the move itself. We’ve started sorting what we’ll take and have gone so far as to arrange for the transport of what we’re taking by shipping freight and started to throw out or donate what we don’t need. Casual glances around the house while sipping tea or picking a book to read become considerations of weight and packaging, mentally packing my teapots with the handmade pottery, or browsing through friends to find someone who could adopt one of them.

It’s a strange thought that in 2 months and a day there will be no trace of us having been here, aside from memories and those things of ours that we leave with friends. This more or less sums up my feelings about this at the moment.

image

I have also started to get teary at landscapes. While on the bus home yesterday I looked out of the window at the sudden, sheer granite faces that loom over the road, moss covered and only just shedding the frozen curtains of water and melting snow. On their peaks stood pines and leafless birches, around their feet the bushes and shrubs that in a few months will be carrying berries. Then we pass a lake, a coral pink sunset and a severe line of pines reflected on its surface, rippling from the lines being cast out by a group of old folk getting in some fishing before the sun disappears.

Growing up in the bush I used to love visits to a nearby pine plantation, where I’d pretend I was in the forests from the fairy tales, where wolves, hobbits, dragons, elves and adventurers lived. I do love the Australian bush, wild, rough and with its own beauty, but some part of my heart lives in the secret corners and high reaches of northern forests. And I suppose that’s one thing at least that I’ll leave behind when we go.

Leaving Sweden

I’m letting the cat out of the bag this week. It’s a rather big cat and to be honest one I’d rather keep in the bag, but as with so much in life the bag-opening decision was taken out of our hands. Too many metaphors? In short, we’re moving back to Perth at the end of May.
There, I’ve said it.
Some of you may already know, in which case you’ll know the reason. Which is an illness in the family. We can’t stay over here while people we love suffer and fade day by day. Even though there are many things about this decision that make me sad, I know that it’s the right decision.

It will mean a huge change in our lives, and rather than imagine it as a return to the old life, I’m trying to frame it as the next adventure. We’ve changed and grown, and I’m not the person who jumped on a plane into the unknown almost 3 years ago. And once this next stage is over and we’re ready to consider our next adventure, I’ll be someone else again.

Perhaps we’ll even be able to return to Sweden, or live somewhere nearby that would allow us to visit regularly. That is an unknown at the moment, though one thing we are sure about is that we want to keep moving, regardless of whatever else happens in our lives. I’ll try and take Neil Gaiman’s words with me, and continue the journey with my eyes and my heart wide open.

Spring

Spring

2015: Travels and moving forward

So 2015 is now in the past, and while like any year it creeps along at walking pace while living it, looking back it seems now to have been very full and sometimes reaching a sprint. It has been a year of travelling (7 different countries!), big steps forward (my own business) and important decisions.

It started, as all years do in Sweden, with fireworks and then a trip to Stockholm. Later in the month I met my mum in Copenhagen and traveled around with her, as we showed each other our lives in the North, both past and present.

As the darkness and cold continued to set in, there was a trip to sunny Malaga, a brief inoculation against the winter that has also left me in love with Spain.
Time passed, fear came to my home town, and then Easter and the turning of the seasons. I continued to work, relief teaching at schools and gathering private students, learning as I went. That fear seemed to grow throughout the year, rising from under the surface and at least right now it doesn’t look as though it’s going to recede any time soon.

More trips around the Nordic regions followed, including a cruise across the Baltic and a short stay in Aarhus, Denmark. Summer arrived, and with the holidays I left a beloved school, experienced my second Midsummer picnic and attempted indoor gardening. Other hobbies included joining a flamenco choir, trying to make it to a language café in between teaching and tasting the brews made by my partner.

As summer passed we flew to Malta, experiencing long sunny days, chaos, sea and incredible history. Back at home work continued to increase, with more and more private students and work through a consultancy. I found less time for writing and reflection, and for the first time since I started this blog, the gaps between posts became 2 weeks or more rather than 1. As my focus shifted, I set about making the most of the change, and formally set up my business, including a website and a business plan.

With the end of the year almost upon us, we visited London, a place I’ve long considered as a home that I’d not yet got around to visiting. It met, surpassed and left my expectations far behind, giving me yet another place that lurks invitingly in the back of my mind whenever I’m feeling restless.

Finally we returned to Australia for family, christmas and a holiday of sorts. It was intense, as any trip home to family, friends and real life is bound to be. As well as the various pressures and commitments, the days of the festive season were for the most part relaxing and enjoyable, filled with food and love. I also got a bit of a tan, though you wouldn’t think so if you asked the repairman who came to fix our dryer. I’m fairly sure I let him down a bit.

Then the year came full circle, with fireworks in the cold, cheering and friends, and a return to the long, dark wait until Spring. 2016 is still new and fresh and full of potential, and no amount of guesswork can tell what might happen. A few things are certain, and will be shared in their time, but mostly the year is unwritten, and we shall we what we shall see.

…in the morning we will remember them

At some point I lost the ability to see things only in black and white. One of the casualties was ANZAC Day, the annual day to honour those soldiers who died on the coast of Turkey 100 years ago. It was the day that the Australian nation was born. Wasn’t it? Or did it mark the start of the stretching of bonds between The British Empire and her little colony? Or was it just a failed campaign that cost thousands of lives?

ANZAC Cove

Back in primary school we were taught about bravery, sacrifice and the necessity of waging war against evil, and the nobility of those young men who died for us. The crucified man on the wall was a template for self-sacrifice and the young, tanned and wiry men in slouch hats his successors. For years, whenever I saw a sports game with fit young men I’d flash back to descriptions of the soldiers and transpose them into the old uniforms, running across no man’s land in style of Mark Lee.
As I read more I discovered a contradiction in the idea of war being against an ultimate evil. There were stories of food thrown over the trenches, camaraderie across the lines and the speech of Ataturk,

…your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well.

Under orders young men killed other young men, but in moments of humanity they saw each other as people. This narrative echoed over and over, the soldiers victims of a stupid war that pitted them against people who could have been friends.

Graves at the ANZAC cove gravesite

Around high school I began to go to the Dawn Ceremony, wrenching myself and my dad out of bed before dawn to make our sleepy way to King’s Park. There we gathered with others in the cold, rain and occasional sprinkler malfunction to watch as wreaths were laid, speeches were given and we muttered that next year we would definitely bring fold-out chairs. Finally a trumpet was blown and 10s of thousands of people stood in silence in the dawn, as rosy hues spread across the sky and magpies called from the top of the monument, the silence broken by the Ode of Remembrance.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.
Lest we forget.

With each year the crowd would grow, and we ended up further and further back from the memorial. Sometimes we brought my brother, friends or visitors, but always it was my dad and I, talking about the old boys and the memories of the men who had left us a pauper’s grave and the medals that dad wore on his chest.

On ANZAC Day my mum always stayed at home to look after my sister and because she didn’t feel the same need to go as we did. I’d ask why she didn’t want to come and she’d say that it seemed to her a celebration of war that she didn’t want any part of. I’d try to explain my feelings about the day and what it meant to me, about remembrance of sacrifice and honouring the dead, but beneath this was an acknowledgement of what she said. Were we celebrating the nobility of war, and an ideal of humanity that didn’t exist outside of fiction? What was the difference between honouring the deaths of young men in the service of their country and honouring the necessity of the war that took them away? She has since said that she understands it better, remembering family and the personal remains of the war, and seems not so opposed to the day as she was in the past.
However, all the talk about the birth of the nation on the beaches of Gallipoli seemed to deny all that had come before. Even now the day of Federation or when universal suffrage was passed are vague to most Australians, but ask them about the date of a battle in a far off land and they can tell you in seconds.

ANZAC memorial at North Beach

Then this year, the day before Australia day, I found out about an event that had taken place exactly 100 years previously. On the 24th of April 1915 the Ottoman government rounded up and executed Armenian intellectuals in Istanbul and ordered the deportation of other Armenians across the country. The reason given is they were perceived as being a threat to the war effort, and over the coming years able-bodied men were massacred and the rest were force marched into the Syrian desert to die of starvation. In total, between 800,000 and 1.5 million people died. With the threat being removed, the focus could then shift to the shores of Gallipoli.
Though the genocide wasn’t caused by the Allied soldiers, there is a connection between these two events and for this year at least I couldn’t think of one without the other.

So it was with mixed feelings that I loked forward to the 100th anniversary of the landings at Gallipoli, and then realised that I had agreed to go on an overnight cruise of the Baltic on ANZAC Day (more on that trip later). So I kept the day in mind and regretted my poor planning, wishing I could have gone to the ceremony held by Australian and New Zealander expats. The day came and went, and I started writing the draft of this post on the train to Stockholm and finishing it on the way back.
Posts from friends and family flooded Facebook, reflecting on war, the past, Australian identity and family. On Sunday morning I saw a post from my mum, a series of photos from their ANZAC Day across the world. Rather than attend the Dawn Ceremony, dad stayed home and mum made pikelets. Then they went to the Blackboy Hill memorial, where my paternal grandfather had enlisted and trained before being sent off to France at the tender and secret age of 16. Then they visited his grave and left a temporary plaque in lieu of the official stone to replace the bare, iron numbers of the pauper’s grave. Then King’s Park and the pub, to while away the last hours of the day. Right now I can’t think of a more appropriate way to spend the day, in the company of family past and present, keeping the memory of those who were lost to the war alive.
The Monday after ANZAC Day, when I was preparing an activity for a student using coverage from the Australian memorials, I unexpectedly burst into tears when they showed the Perth ceremony, the familiar monument and sunlit distant hills bringing all of the homesickness I had thought long gone to the surface. I’ve now missed two ANZAC Day’s, and I didn’t really realize until then how much.

My great-grandfather

My great-grandfather

So after explaining what the day means to non-Australians and writing this post, I think that ANZAC Day is never just one thing, clear in black and white and disconnected from context and doubt and nor should it be. It’s a day for acknowledging the shades in-between black and white, and it’s a day for remembering.

Lest we forget.

A tourist at home

I am writing this from my apartment in Göteborg, as outside the sun shines the the flowers continue to bloom in every possible hue. It’s a contrast to the overcast chill of my last day in Perth, an irony that is definitely not been lost on me.

The morning choir

The morning choir

Though it has resulted in this post being a few days later than usual, I thought I’d wait till I returned to Sweden to write the final post about the trip to Australia. Now that I’m back I have a different perspective than what I had when I was sitting in my old bedroom, listening to the magpies in the trees outside the window. Sitting here in the apartment, listening to the cars roar past on the highway outside the window, the whole trip seems almost unreal. It’s the feeling I was somewhat expecting when we arrived in Perth 3 weeks ago, as though the months in Sweden had been a passing fancy, and we were now back home at last. Instead I felt off balance for about two weeks, a mix of jetlag and an unsettling feeling that the familiar was foreign. I tried to explain this to family and friends, and I’m not sure now whether it made sense, or whether I inadvertently sounded as though I was gladly clear of our home town. Although, the only way to really sound like a native is to knock it, right?

A black swan

A black swan

One part of the trip that I very much enjoyed was getting to spend time in by myself among trees. I do that here as well, but it’s different when it’s the types of trees and shrubs I grew up with and can name. There were walks around the home, including finding half of a smashed bee hive in the empty trunk of a fallen branch that still smelt of honey and visiting one of my favourite parks.

A pearly eucalypt

A pearly eucalypt

The pine plantation that surrounds the park was my childhood image of a fairy tale forest, and I spent hours there acting out adventures with friends or just wandering by myself and staring up at the towering pines and pretending I was in a forest in a far off land.
My family had bbqs in the curve of a creek, under a tree whose leaves turned gold in Autumn, and one of my favourite photos of my dad was taken there, as he supervised the wood-fire bbq.
Also in the park is an old oak, planted in 1870 which from a distance looks dense and no taller than the eucalypts surrounding it. When you walk along the raised platform and step underneath, it’s as though you’re inside a dome of leaves, sheltered by branches that reach almost to the ground that are in turn held up by an immense trunk. I’ve seen karri trees over 70 metres tall in the south of WA, and old olive trees in Italy, but for me they don’t compare to that old oak.

A 144 year old oak

A 144 year old oak

In addition to walks in the forest, I spent most of the final week driving around to last-minute catch ups, and eating a lot. I just looked at my calendar and Sunday through to Thursday are back-to-back lunches, afternoon teas and dinners. I also managed to see my grandma, who I haven’t seen in many years. It’s impossible to replace nine months of casual meet ups with a few hours over tea or a meal and surprisingly surprising to remember that time passes at the same speed across the world. People move on to new jobs, try new things, change plans and go about their lives, irrespective of any imaginary pause buttons. Hearing of new plans and ideas, I’m looking forward to seeing how much change another year will bring.

Dinner at Little Creatures

Dinner at Little Creatures

So what have I learnt from the trip?

That a holiday and visiting an old home are not the same thing.

Nothing beats good food and good company.

It takes a few days for my native accent to cease being hilarious.

Something can be both familiar and foreign at the same time.

Home doesn’t have to be one place.

Things that don’t change

I am happy to announce that my jetlag is over, yay! I have also ceased to giggle at Australian accents, although once or twice I have drifted to the right side of the road. Fortunately only my nana was there to briefly panic and suggest the other side might be better, so no incidents occurred.

The stainglass window in Forrest Chase

The stainglass window in Forrest Chase

This past week was a bit less planned out than next week, so on Monday I found myself at loose ends. My partner had started working so was unavailable for adventures, as were most other people I know, so I decided to head into ‘the city’. I still can’t help but think of it in inverted commas, despite the constant growth. Like a younger sibling, I’ve seen it grow, and grown up with it. From visits to the museum with mum and grandma to see the whale skeleton, to wandering up to 78 Records with my school friends, to working in A. B. Facey House and then after work drinks in new, crowded bars. And like a younger sibling, I have an irresistible urge to condescend, just a little bit.

London Court

London Court

It has grown since I was last there, though is still in flux, with giant stretches of construction sites and cranes peeping among the towers. I suppose some day it’ll be finished, but it won’t happen while the boom is still booming.

Perth from South Perth

Perth from South Perth

I caught the train in from Midland, and for those who know Midland, it is still very much Midland.

Midland train station

Midland train station

Once in the city I wandered, discovering that the final cinema in the city is gone and that otherwise little has changed. One of my favourite restaurants, The Greenhouse, is still there and I had a lovely lunch, which included the finest lemonade and the third best dessert I’ve ever had.

Lemonade

Lemonade

I then did a tiny bit of shopping and decided to catch the ferry across the river, because why not. Once across I took pictures of the city, and then strolled back around the river, with the sun in my eyes and the familiar trees and the walk warming me up.

The next day I had scheduled lunch with my dad, and then dinner at the house of 2 very good friends. I got up, baked an apple pie for dinner, then headed out to see my dad. It was a day and night of food and conversation, and wonderful company, and I finished by feeling extremely replete, and not just in my very full belly.

An apple pie

An apple pie

On Wednesday morning I drove down to Mandurah, where my nana lives, to spend the night. She is my father’s mother, and has lived down there for as long as I can remember. I have many childhood memories of christmas holidays spent at the beach, and lounging around the old house. I can remember the hot bitumen as we ran barefoot from the old red 4wd to the sand, the tides forming new sand banks each time we visited, the slick slatherings of suncream on my skin, the old fashioned music in the car and the sand that built up in the shower as we rinsed off the salt-water.

The summer beach

The summer beach

Creamy mashed potato, the old piano, playing with my cousin, trips to the shops, movies in the lounge and the hours of quiet reading and cards as the afternoon drew on. Years later the furniture has been moved around, the beaches seem smaller and the house still smells and feels the same. A constant, like lamingtons, the wisdom of old ladies and a cup of tea.

I also chatted to my nana about her father, who my father had found more information about prior to my return. She has vague memories of the man, who left when she was 6 (or more likely was told to go my her mother), and then returned years later when she had children herself, not recognising her and demanding to know who was living in his house. Not wanting to disturb her mother, she didn’t identify herself, and he left in a taxi, only to die, probably alone, a few years later. It was just one part of the tragedy of the man’s life, decided in large part when he signed up to the Australian Army in 1917, claiming the age of 18 but in fact 16. My father’s research says that he was sent to the Somme, probably as a reinforcement after the battle of the previous year. What he saw there we’ll never know, but he came back damaged, apparently never able to settle and often on the bottle. My father traced his grave, a bare patch of earth with the small numbered plaque, partially covered in sand. Soon we hope to give him back his name, something that I wish the countless other numbered graves could also receive.

My great-grandfather

My great-grandfather

After I returned home from Mandurah, I drove over to a house where I have spent many days and evenings, and where another man damaged by the war spent the last of his years. Since high school I have whiled away hours at the KSP writer’s centre, writing, talking and working, and this being a Thursday I did what must be done: I went to the Thursday Night Group. The group meets to read out their work, critique that of others and drink wine and prior to moving to Sweden I spent most thursdays there, laughing, chatting and discussing the work that brought us all together week after week. Many of the usuals were still there, reading out new stories or poems, making very poor fowl related puns and kindly pulling apart each others writing. As with the house in Mandurah, it was another constant, unchanging, reliable and often quite silly.

Then finally on Friday I went into the city again, this time with a purpose. Before I moved to Sweden I had worked for one state government agency for about 3 years, so there were many memories and friends there, that I wanted to visit. There were a few doubletakes from those who didn’t know I’d be there, and questions about how I was, how Sweden was and what I was doing. Government agencies in my experience rarely change fundamentally, despite cuts, freezes and policy changes. The day to day goes on as always, and those I met seemed mostly as they had been when I left, if slightly busier. After wandering about surprising people for a while I headed out with a few particular cronies and spent the next few hours in another aspect of government service which is unchanging – the afterwork drink.

Gums in Guildford

Gums in Guildford

Next week I will be even busier, catching up with those I haven’t had a chance to see yet and spending some final hours with my family. Soon enough I’ll be back in Sweden, with Australia again another memory. Then in a year we’ll return, and I hope have a few days without rain.

Magpies and old places

I would be interested to know if there exists in any language a word for the feeling that something is both familiar and strange at the same time. It is a feeling that I have discovered since arriving in Australia on Sunday night. Driving up into the hills, seeing the old and newly greened bushland, and my parents’ house, it seems as though I never left. Perhaps the whole thing was some Eurovision induced fantasy.

Whether or not the months in Sweden have been a dream, the long flight over here couldn’t have been faked. As anyone who’s made long-haul flights will know, the only thing worse than 10 hours tightly packed into a cabin is the queues, waiting, security checks and sudden rush before and after the flights. The reward of course is arriving, and for us being able to see our families for the first time in months. Thanks to skype we never feel too far away from them but the internet is no substitute for a hug.

The Indian Ocean

The Indian Ocean

That first night we slept like the dead, waking up mid-morning to a strange feeling of warmth. While it’s been mostly cloudy with occasional showers since we arrived, it is much warmer than what we left behind and I am right now indulging in a pair of shorts, which I have not worn since we left last year. Though my mind is slowly adjusting to being on holiday and being in Australia, my body is still finding the warmth and humidity strange, and noticing more than ever the scent of eucalyptus, the soil after rain and the din of all the birds calling in the bush.

The sun behind a grasstree

The sun behind a grasstree

I went for a walk on Wednesday afternoon and felt a bit like a tourist, amazed by the cries of the various parrots, cockatoos, magpies, finches, mudlarks and other unknown birds, and the strange shapes and colours of the plants lining the gravel path. I was reminded again of the contrast between soft and hard shown in the Australian bush. The parrot bush, with its sharp edged leaves and downy yellow flowers, the prickly moses with buds not yet in bloom and an unknown grass the blades of which twist like calligraphy.

Calligraphy

Calligraphy

Another new experience was the other people cycling, walking or running on the path. Without exception, they smiled, nodded or said good morning and we passed each other. One fellow shooting past on a bike even said thank you when I moved to the side of the path in response to his bell ringing. I suppose people in Australia, or at least those who live out beyond suburbia, will probably shrug and wonder what I’m talking about. You see, in Sweden, if you meet someone on a path, or on a road, be they walking, cycling or running, the most acknowledgement you can expect is a nod. Mostly I get the briefest of eye-contact, if that. There are a few ladies who are an exception, as I pass them every day and one of their dogs generally chases me, so I get a semi-apologetic smile and ‘hej’ as I outrun the little ball of fluff. I am now experiencing the reverse of what I got used to months ago, as I blink in surprise at friendly greetings from strangers.

Prickly Australian natives

Prickly Australian natives

Further proof that I am in Australia came on Wednesday night, as I pulled aside the curtain in my bedroom to close the window. Perched on the sill, looking just as surprised as me, was a little gecko. It turned out that the top of the window screen was slightly open, so I climbed up and pulled it out so I could set the gecko free (no double glazed windows in Australia) and as I did so a big black spider scuttled across the screen. Thinking it was a redback, I may have sworn a bit, waking my dad up and startling both the spider and the gecko. It was just a plain black spider, and with a bit of shaking I got it off the screen and then tried to coax the gecko out of the window. It decided instead to scamper into a gap under the sill and as far as I know is still there. I have made sure that the screen is closed, so hopefully I won’t have any more surprise guests. On the fluffy side, I have also seen a bandicoot and two rabbits. I’m sure a kangaroo will be along at some point too.

The reason for the trip, or at least the reason for the timing, was a wedding. One of my partner’s closest friends set the date for his wedding shortly after we’d left for Sweden, so the plan to pop over had been in place for a while. The wedding was on Thursday, at a very nice venue right next to a river. It was relatively small, around 60 guests, and beautifully planned. The ceremony was short and sweet, the bride looked lovely and the groom slightly nervous but pleased. There were garden games while photos were taken, and I first beat my partner at giant-connect 4, and then we drew at chess. Well we reached an impasse so I distracted him, stole the king and made him forfeit. After which we had a reception in a very elegantly decorated pavilion, with tasty food, slightly embarrassing and sincere speeches and then dancing. The night ended as the bride and groom were driven to the airport and the guests who had lasted stumbled off to cars or taxis. I’ve only been to a few weddings, but in terms of planning, calmness and sincerity, it was the nicest.

This week has otherwise been spent recovering from jetlag, resting, spending time with family, talking, watching my brother and his girlfriend play netball (their team won), seeing friends and planning for the coming weeks. Already my days are filling up, and the first week is nearly over. Soon there will be more people to see and plans to make, but until then I’ll sit in my old room, listening to magpies and the rain.

A gravel trail

A gravel trail