If I had to summarize the ocean I would probably say it is a giant wet death trap filled with zillions of gross things that want to poison and/or eat you. If I had to summarize Australia the description would be exactly the same but minus the word “wet”. Oceans and rainforests look pretty in pictures, but lurking just beneath the surface there are an infinity of ugly slimy things with too many legs and too many eyes and too many teeth.
When I moved to Australia my friend told me I was insane because I was going to get eaten for sure. In fact, she no longer calls me by name, but rather as “Shark Host” because she is convinced that the instant I got to Australia I was swallowed whole and now I update my facebook statuses from within the shark. This is not true. Sharks don’t really swallow people whole and then update their facebook pages. It’s a common misconception.
The point is, for many years now I have desperately wanted to go to Australia. I could handle all the spiders and snakes and sharks and jellyfish, I just really really wanted to go to Australia and swim in the Great Barrier Reef. So every single year for my birthday and when Santa asked what I wanted for Christmas, I would always just submit a piece of paper containing simply the word “Australia”.
Last year I finally got my wish. I got a Working Holiday Visa, packed my bags, and set off for the Land Down Under. That was over 11 months ago and I can’t believe how fast it’s gone by. So, in my final hours in the international departures terminal of this glorious country, I would like to propose a toast. To Australia!
SYDNEY OPERA HOUSE
The day I arrived I hauled my sleepless body off the plane and immediately over to Circular Quay to see the iconic landmarks known as the Harbour Bridge and the Sydney Opera House. That was the day I developed a freakish love affair with the Opera House, rivalled only by my feelings for Quentin Tarantino. There could probably be a reality show about it. In addition to its aesthetic magnificence (the Opera House, not Q) there is an incredible history of perseverance and controversy and it stands as a testament to the power of the human mind. It is a building that, quite simply, is not supposed to exist.
It began as an international architecture competition virtually limitless in its scope. The winning concept by Danish designer Jorn Utzon was initially disqualified and discarded in the first round of the competition. However, it was later retrieved and selected despite a complete absence of any real logistical plans. In other words, it looked really cool on paper, but nobody had any idea how it was actually going to materialize.
The construction was a revolutionary process that exceeded both financial and time predictions by A LOT! (Give or take 15 times the original cost estimate.) There was widespread scepticism and contempt, a new government that was highly critical of the project, and ultimately the resignation of Jorn Utzon. He never returned to Australia and therefore never actually saw the completed project for which he was awarded the Pritzker Prize.
I lived in Sydney for about eight months, and every time I was in a bad mood all I had to do was walk down to Circular Quay and look at the Sydney Opera House, and then nothing else mattered because that building reminded me that I was in Australia. That made me happy as a giant clam. Like the giant clams you find in the Great Barrier Reef.
GREAT BARRIER REEF
Jumping off a boat into the middle of a shark infested ocean is, admittedly, a little intimidating. You kind of feel like the biggest sucker ever for empowering Australia’s tourism industry for a) convincing you to do it, and b) convincing you to pay for it. But then you muster up the courage to dive in and suddenly a whole new universe is revealed.
Viewing the Reef through the eyes of National Geographic is amazing, but nothing compares to the first moment you stick your head under the water and it feels like you’re on a different planet. A planet that tastes like salt. You are like a spectator looking down, and all the colourful fish and turtles and barracudas swim around like you’re not even there. When you stick your head up you remember that you’re back in the middle of the ocean, and it’s kind of like you’re going between two totally separate worlds. I found Nemo and swam until my arms ached, and it was without a doubt one of the most incredible experiences of my life.
Moral of the story: The ocean is undeniably disgusting and contains a crazy amount of creatures that have clearly provided the inspiration for Will Smith’s cinematic opponents. And so what if Australian wildlife is just a bunch of merchants of death?! It’s also spectacularly beautiful. (Not so much the spiders though.) Exploration opens our eyes and makes us stronger by pushing us to do things we wouldn’t normally do and be close to bugs that are big enough to have their own solar systems.
I am extremely lucky to have travelled all over the world and seen things most people never get to. I may have missed out on a platypus sighting, but I did get to see wild kangaroos and wallabies and giant sea turtles, in addition to the most spectacular scenery in the world. There are so many amazing things I got to do in Australia, and even more that I didn’t. Bottom line is I love this country, and I love all the people I met along the way who helped make this year so fantastic. And here's a giant spider eating a butterfly!
"Don't forget me I kill people too!" -Crocodile