Friday, June 25, 2010

I Come From the Land Down Under Part 1

I had been accepted as an exchange student at Macquarie University in Sydney. I had never left the safety of the North American Continent. Given the unbelievable opportunity to travel to a land that seemed so adventurous, I readied myself for the unknown. Australia, hmmm, vegemite, kangaroos, koalas ... INXS, Midnight Oil, AC/DC, Kylie Minogue, Crowded House, Little River Band, Savage Garden, Natalie Imbruglia, Nick Cave - uh yeah I was not going to miss this!

While everyone went back to class for spring semester in the new millennium, I shopped for swim suits,watched re-runs of Magnum PI, read up on walk abouts and psyched myself up for some awesome music adventures.

I also psyched myself up for ... wait, I have never flown. How long is the flight? I thought I had everything under control. I would make tons of mixed tapes (yes, you read that correctly). I wasn't going to take my CDs or my cassettes. No, I spent days creating mixed tapes and planned on listening to them on my Sony Walkman. Was I so concerned about connecting flights, looking right instead of left while crossing the road, or what classes I would take that the idea of mixed tapes sustaining me in my new home seemed credible and logical?

This crucial under-expectation of my musical needs while being 10,000 miles from home would haunt me and cost me.

The flight to LAX terrified me. What was I doing? What if, I don't know, what if I forgot how to speak or lost the ability to read when I landed in Australia? How do I navigate airports? How do I find my apartment? What the hell was I doing?

Anxiety attack aside, I made it to LAX. My luggage found it's way to my connecting Air Pacific Flight. Whoah - that is the plane that is going to fly me 15 hours to Fiji? That thing was huge. How did it fly through the air? Inside, it was very roomy and not at all cramped. The staff all wore sarongs (I don't know about the pilots) and the food was really yummy. Still no music. Off I was to my first destination - Fiji.

My seat mate was a yachting priest from New Zealand who like to abscond with airline silverware. It was a very brief lay over in Fiji. Absolutely gorgeous. I was so tired (I was too nervous still to sleep) that I mistook an actual window with the gorgeous sunrise for a painting. Fiji on the return trip would prove much more exciting.

Alright, almost there. Back on the plane and this time my seat mate was a vegetarian folk singer who reminded me of Charlotte Church. I asked a ton of questions about Sydney to which she had no answers. Five hours and I was there. My new home. I never would have believed you if you had told me that this place would not only shape the person I would become, but would ultimately be one of my favorite places that I wouldn't mind calling home. Aside from the occasional spider, Vegemite and lack of peanut butter on the market shelves - it is a magical place filled with honest people, great food and an awesome blues fest every fall (spring to the rest of us). I had never seen a sky so big or so blue, met people so humble and birds so loud.
I did not expect the house that the keys opened. It was a four story house on the edge of a ravine. Geckos sunned themselves on the brick steps. It was a house that seemed very empty except for two unkempt beds on the third floor and toast crumbs and cheese wrappers in the kitchen. I began to believe my flatmates were boys.

I found an empty room on the second floor complete with a balcony. I could not believe that I had gum trees and eucalyptus in my back yard. No need to unpack just now. I fell asleep and awoke to the smell of ... toast. A tinge of homesickness hit - but I had to shake it.

In the kitchen I met two young gentlemen. One from Norway and one from Sweden. From this point on they will be named Curly and Mick. I was offered some toast and butter (they were out of cheese). It was quickly decided that we must go explore the city after we check in at Uni for our classes. To their delight, I offered to pack us lunches.

Turns out, Curly loved Pantera and Mary J Blige. Mick liked the Rolling Stones (and James Bond). I could see this would work very well. A speaker system was needed to listen to our music. Finally, this was becoming home!

After a beautiful day of exploring the city and going to Manly Beach - we trekked home, tired, salty, hungry, to discover a fourth flatmate: Jules. Jules was the girl I needed to balance out the house. She grew up in Germany but spoke and understood the English language better than I ever would. She loved music: Miles Davis, Kylie Minogue,Santana, club music. It was a beautiful fit. We were ready for our first night out on the town.
And what a first night it was. We ended up a pub called Scruffy Murphy's on George Street at the very same night some Australian soldiers came home from protecting East Timor. The Runners played covers at the front of the smokey, stereotypical Irish pub. Jules and I danced all night and into the morning.
Soon the house was filled with music and spiders. We all soon adjusted to a daily school and TV schedule. I cannot remember what night it was, but we looked at our first floor sliding door screen at what looked to be a frog. Upon closer inspection and then far away "make sure it doesn't get in!" inspection, we determined it was a spider. A big, hairy, eight-legged spider. Someone remembered that we received a ten deadliest spiders "web guide" in the mail and went to get it to compare (now through a closed and locked sliding door - because you know spiders can unlock doors).It turned out to be a non-dangerous spider, but he looked scary and that was enough for us to leave all screens closed tight. I think we all slept in our sleeping bags that night - just in case.

We all were finally deep in studies. I began to listen to the radio on my Walkman when I studied at the library, because I admit, I was getting bored of listening to the same music over and over. I was ten thousand miles from home, away from my CD collection and I needed to hear either something new or something that wasn't on a 60 minute cassette. I fought going to the HMV music store because that would be credit card suicide. No - I decided to use my resources: the radio.
The two big radio stations in Sydney are Triple J and Triple M. They played both modern hits (Madison Avenue became a favorite) but most of the time -- and I love you Australia -- but you are stuck in the 70's and 80's, they played old INXS, the Little River Band, Crowded House. But I learned to like it. I didn't have radio like that in the States.
Soon, I was looking forward to listening to Midnight Oil while studying away in the library. But there is one song that will always bring back Sydney to me.
One night while walking past the golf course on my way home (it was a Monday because Buffy the Vampire Slayer would be on when I got home)I was listening to Triple M and a song I never particularly paid attention to by INXS came on: "To Look At You". It is a slow, almost haunting song. It's supported by simple 80's keyboard harmonies with the tell-tale sensual voice of Michel Hutchence. I looked up at the plane lowering it's landing gear as it came into Sydney Airport and then further up to the stars. The Southern Cross flew high in the sky. I was in Sydney. I was in Australia.

The song always seemed to be on the radio at the most perfect times: While sitting at my desk in my room, my balcony door open and a breeze of eucalyptus tempting to move my papers from their neat pile; Walking back through the rugby field at the Epping Boys school after a late night of back to back movies at Uni; After surfing at Noosa Beach (before Curly's non shark injury).

The only night it wasn't played was May 25th at the Metro, when I saw INXS perform their second show without Michael Hutchence. Not only had I made a pilgrimage to the memorial of Michael Hutchence bearing tigerlillies for him, I managed to get tickets to a 1,200 seat show at Sydney's famed Metro club. This would be the first time the band played Sydney without their leader. It really was amazing to be a venue so small with a band with so much energy. I was up front of course and I wish I had video, even audio, when the venue went silent and I screamed "Kirk!". I was referring to their saxophone / guitar player Kirk Pengilly. To my amazement he turned and looked at me and said, "What?" Now I had to really think fast. I didn't expect him to answer me. So I replied " Play me a song." They moved into "Shine Like It Does". I couldn't wipe the smile off my face for days.
This is but one story of many that Australia had to offer. What to expect in the next installment?
  • Is that a monkey in our back yard?
  • How I discovered the man who would eventually live under my bed
  • A $400.00 trip to the zoo and Aunt Suzies Dancing Shoes - sort of
  • Girls night out with Savage Garden and Vanessa Amorossi and Popstar Madness!
  • That's so nice of then to fly the Fijian Army first class -- wait, a coup?
Until next time...
"Once there was a swagman camped by a billabong, under the shade of the coolabah tree, and he sang as he watched and he waited til his billy boiled, you'll come a waltzing Matilda with me"

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