I imagine infinitely long beaches, barely populated with tourists, the beautiful, crisp, clear ocean foams and splashes with the force and power of an untamed god. Beyond, there is opportunity: a city or a town; a beautifully smart, elegantly put together, restaurant selling the very best of what nature can produce, cooked simply; a cold glass of beer to quench the thirst all of this breeds.
I say I imagine, because no reality can ever match the ideal of a holiday destination. I have spent so many years being aware of Australia and its landscape, that I cannot remember when the thought of the place first occurred to me. I do know that recent years have only intensified my interest in the land; I blame the easy availability of Australian television for that: it’s bloody marvellous viewing.
I have a to-do list of countries I want to visit and things I want to do while I’m there. It’s not exactly a bucket list – largely due to my own arrogance surrounding my own mortality – but it is an indication of my priorities with regard to international travel. Most of the list is pretty standard: for instance, I want to go to India, so that I can eat for pennies in street cafes and visit ancient clocks and wells.
I want Australia to be on the list, but it is not. I am a low temperature traveller, and Australia seems like it may be a rather hot place to spend any time (not that India isn’t roasting, of course). This is something I have rather mixed feelings about. I want to see the great Australian cities, and experience what the place feels like, but I don’t want to sweat myself sick the whole time I am there. I am a Nigel of the highest order, and I know it.
I also quail at the thought of being on an aircraft for that kind of length of time. The flight time from my home in the North-East of England to the magnificent city of Melbourne, with its laneways and its world-class food culture, is more than 25 hours, with two stops. The longest portion of that is between London and Perth, which takes just short of seventeen hours. That’s a lot of time breathing in the breath of a few hundred other people. I literally cannot imagine such a colossal ball-ache.
But flight times from a cold place to a hot place are not the fault of Australia or the Australians. They are a fault of my own prejudices, fears and motivations. They’re either in my head and I should get over them, or they are the fault of the airlines, and so existential. They’re bloody expensive, too.
Is any of that any reason to prevent on of my favourite countries in the world getting one to my travel to-do list? It is, but it’s not good enough. Notice I have only mentioned how much I want to spend time in a city, or beside a well-equipped restaurant? Funny that. There’s a big reason I cannot go.
I am terrified of the wildlife in Australia far more than any of the people. The Australian people seem like a rather friendly bunch, with a great perspective on the world, and the ability to improve their lot beyond the Anglo Saxon heritage which holds most British people back. Australian wildlife seems like an exhibition in a museum of torture, abuse and humiliation. The spiders alone are true killers.
So much has the lethality of the Australian outdoors been fed in to my mind throughout my life that I cannot ever imagine being emotionally prepared to set foot on the soil. I can imagine visiting the cities, but even then I know that there are creepy crawlies which would make me shit out a kidney in the cities, too. I am an indoors person, with a complete aversion to any creature which could quite happily kill me. Australia is a country where it is a waste to be indoors, and death lies everywhere.
Anyway, fuck it. What do I want to do in Australia, imagining for a moment that I can endure the flying coffin for more than a day, acclimatise to the heat (putting fewer clothes on would be a start – I have a thick onesie, with underwear and a t-shirt on now, and the heating is on), and take my mind off being killed by spiders. Well, the list, as regular readers of If Percundis will know, is quite foody.
In recent years there has been a far greater understanding, both outside of Australia and within, that the produce of Australia is world class. I want to gorge on seafood: bugs and pipis, mudcrab and abalone, bara and snapper. I might even be tempted by a mussel, if it’s sourced locally enough. I want to dive in to an ocean of Australian wine, and taste the sunshine. I want a bloody fingerlime.
The restaurant scene in Australia is also world-class, with chefs like Neil Perry, Shannon Bennet and Curtis Stone opening new ventures as if they want fine dining to replace the traditional pub dinner. This has led to a thriving local scene with a seemingly endless array of fantastic restaurants being set up in every city and town. I have neither the time nor the money to indulge as I would like to.
Historically, the British have looked down on the Australians. This is self-evidently unfair. What our blessed children – and this applies equally to Canada and New Zealand – have done is to build global trading nations, with strong, successful institutions. And they have done this while being aware of, but thoughtfully different from, what has been done in the UK. They have avoided our mistakes.
To the British mind Australia is the dictionary definition of paradise. We live in a perpetual gloom, where the only true communal activity is moaning about how bloody gloomy it is. If a British person had to draw a picture of the place they would like to live, Australia would be a frequent image.
I love the idea of Australia, I really do, I just don’t think I could ever realise it. There are too many things holding me back from experiencing such a fantastic and terrifying place. I want to walk the streets and see the buildings, and touch the soil and hear the beach, but I cannot. This annoys me. There are some countries I feel sad that I will never go to, but I accept that. Australia, for all of the fear it holds for me, feels like a place I live with all the time. I’m shocked that I’m not there now.