I turned 55 this year. Not a significant age to be perfectly honest, no-one celebrates reaching the big 55 for instance. Except that for me it was. I’d decided a long time ago that when I reached 55 I’d take advantage of a change in UK pension Law, cash in as much of my pension as I could and go and visit my sister in Australia. A simple plan if ever there was one, so here’s my tale!
I’m not a great traveller. I hate the waiting and queuing and security, taking your shoes off, emptying your pockets, nervous that some evil drug lord had somehow managed to stash a ton of coke into your well folded underpants, all that nonsense. To top all that off Australia is so far away and it takes ages to get there. Australia is also home to 15 of the worlds 18 most deadly creatures! Could I ever get home in one piece?
After a two day trip I arrived at Brisbane and was met by my sister Alison, she prefers Ali, so I’ll go with that from now on. I hadn’t seen her in 7 years or so and I hadn’t spent anymore than a few hours in her company since 1978, so it could all go horribly wrong. What if we don’t get on? What if her partner, Liz doesn’t like me? (I’m a glass half-empty kind of a man!). We hugged for ages and cried a bit and I knew it was all going to be alright.
After a two hour drive in the dark we arrived at Roseberry Creek NSW, had some tea and went to bed. A few hours later the dawn chorus woke me. I say chorus, I mean cacophany! Kookaburras, Bell Miner birds, Whip Birds as well as cows all blasted out a wake up call I’ll never forget! It was so loud, there may be peace in the valley, but certainly no quiet! Astonishing noises from all angles. I got up and met the family, Ali’s partner Liz and the two dogs Chumfa and Scruffy. I think we got on like a house on fire from the first minute.
Roseberry Creek runs through a valley in northwest New South Wales in Australia. It’s dairy farm country ripped out of the rain forest that surrounds the valley. It’s incredibly beautiful, lush, green countryside benefiting from a wet and hot summer. The cattle herds are much reduced these days, a long lasting effect of the UKs entry to the EU in the 70’s meant the dairy farm industry was almost wiped out overnight. Ali and Liz have taken it upon themselves to clear old trails through the forest, so if you know where to look there is access to the most beautiful forest walks and horse trails!
I don’t ride well enough to attempt these rugged trails and prefer to walk, so Liz, the dogs and I would go off early while Ali looked after her horses. I noticed that Liz wore gaiters and wondered why as I’d only ever seen walkers in Britain wearing them to keep their trousers dry. She said they were snake gaiters! Bearing in mind that I fully expected to die at the fangs of a snake or a spider I was a bit worried as I was wearing shorts! I quickly changed to longer jeans then tucked them in my socks to try and stop the leeches and ticks from attacking me! Although I’m not a great fan of creepy crawlies I still wanted to see them, but from a safe distance and not attached to my skin. At first I was nervous going into the forest, I’m used to rather benign British forests where not much can cause serious harm. Here everything was out to get me, there’s evening a stinging tree, for fuck sake! Fortunately Liz knows what to look out for and taught what to avoid. I love a bit of bird watching and tend to stop when I hear a new sound and try to identify where from and what it is and take a picture. This helps to stretch a decent hour’s walk into two, much more relaxing and here everything was new. A real piece of paradise with amazing bird life and the promise of snakes and weird animals too.
Ali took me out in the car to other places around the local vicinity and we went to Lismore looking for Koala bears and fruit bats. Koalas are quite rare in this part of NSW so we headed to a koala rescue centre, but before we got there I spotted one asleep in a tree. Some people might have seen hundreds of these odd looking creatures, but this was my first and I was pretty excited, the koala was totally unimpressed and stayed resolutely asleep in the tree! We later stopped off to visit a colony of fruit bats, huge things hanging off the trees make a racket. As we drove around Ali would point out where the last lot of floods had reached. Flood lines showed well up the walls and roofs of houses, a very volatile place to set up home. Fortunately Ali and Liz had not had to suffer that level of flooding at their place.
There’s not much in the way of night life around Roseberry Creek, so occasional get-togethers with the neighbours were great to get to know the locals. They’re a mixed bunch of ages and experiences and they mostly get along just fine, helping each other when needed. Otherwise the evenings are spent eating great food, drinking wine and talking about the old days and the new days to come. Ali and I have come to many of the same opinions about politics over the years and we very much enjoyed discussing the current state of both British and Aussie politics.
We often went for less energetic strolls around their patch of land, along the creek looking for platypus, which we never saw and wallabies and a dingo which we did. I never thought I’d see a real dingo so close to human habitation, but then I know nothing about that sort of thing. I quickly realised that the dangerous creatures, like the red-back spiders and brown snakes tended to get out the way when they hear you coming, I’m too big to eat and they don’t want to waste their venom on me.
Ali has a real passion for her animals and the land they inhabit. She has two horses, Abby and Harry which she is devoted to and two dogs Scruffy and Chumfa, who I instantly fell in love with. They are so full of life and love. Just to watch them bouncing off into the long grass makes me smile, nothing looks happier than dogs do when they’re doing their thing.
Ali and Liz have been together for years, 18 or so I think. They are the perfect couple, totally comfortable together, and I found it so easy to relax in their company. It was a real joy to catch up with my sister after all those years. She always wanted to work with horses from as early as I remember and she gets to do this every day. She lives with Liz in what can only be described as a small corner of paradise, working her horses, keeping the land in good condition riding horses, Liz walking in the forest. To be perfectly honest I’d have been happy to to hang out there for my whole time in Australia, but I knew I should go off and do some other stuff. That’s going to have to wait till part 2 (coming soon) if you’ve managed to read this far I thank you.
Today, 14th July is Ali’s birthday. I won’t give away her age, but she’s younger than me. I’d like to finish by wishing her a very happy birthday. Ali and Liz made my holiday the best I’ve ever had. I had said that it would be a once in a lifetime trip, but I’ll be coming back as soon as I can afford to, to see the whales and also, I think I left my jacket on the hook in the hall! Mostly I’ll be back to see Ali and Liz in their little corner of paradise!