My research is over and it’s time to have some fun.
I take a ferry from Sydney Harbour to Jamestown, walk along the cliffs and eat fish and chips by the shore. I swim in enclosed pools tucked into the rock face at Coogee beach. In Manly I swim in calmer, warmer waters and return on the ferry at dusk
But what I am really looking forward to are the New Year Fireworks. I have even timed my flight on New Year’s Day so I don’t miss them.
But rumours abound of people taking up their places from noon and even of a terrorist threat. No one told me it’s advisable to book tickets.
I try the zoo. There are no tickets left. But who wants to pay £300 to watch fireworks with terrified tigers and anxious antelopes? Luna fairground still has tickets, at a modest £150, but discos till 4 am don’t appeal and how would I get home?
It is now 4pm on New Years Eve. I have no tickets and no plans of where to go, Flatmates, in my airbnb, have been listening to Hollywood films all day and the American accent has started to grate. Time is running out.
An email pops up in my inbox from a friend of a friend who lives in Sydney but is out of town in a different state.
“We have a house in the Blue Mountains. Do you want to go up there for the night? You can catch the 4.38pm from Newtown.”
My friend recommends going straight to the airport the next morning so I have 10 minutes to pack. I wait for details of the address, how to get there and where to find the key.
The train rolls away from Sydney, away from Catherine wheels spinning over Sydney Bridge, away from rockets fired from the Opera House, away from Luna revellers riding the big dipper under cascading stars, away from tigers as they roar their displeasure. We move out of the suburbs, pass over valleys and climb through forests of taller and taller Eucalyptus trees. They brush against the window and envelop the train in that famous blue haze. A ticket inspector arrives. I have forgotten to buy a ticket but, as a New Year gesture, he lets me off.
Two hours later I arrive at Katoomba, laden. Very laden. I get lost, drag my case this way and that until some tech savvy person directs me down a hill. A very steep hill. I nearly have to cartwheel to keep up with my suitcase as it freewheels to the bottom.
As dusk falls I get to number 46.It can’t be. Not this boarded up shack. I look to the left.
This is better. I open the gate, take the path and find the outside toilet. But it is crammed full of miniature toys. I’ll never find the keys among all these. I can always sleep in the caravan, I suppose, if that’s not locked.
But I should not have worried. The key is there as promised, tucked between a cheery clown and a hobby horse.
“Help yourself to what you can find,” reads the email from my mysterious host.
I rummage around and find a packet of rice and a jar of Puttanesca sauce – my favourite. And there is a bottle of chilled Sauvignon Blanc – my favourite too. I sit outside on the wooden terrace, eating my rice dish and drinking wine in the shade of Eucalyptus trees as cockatoos fly overhead. It’s magical.
In the morning I walk up the road and meet Margaret who formally introduces me to the cockatoos of the previous night. Scary McLary is the leader of the gang.
I find a taxi driver to whom I give my last 50 bucks. He takes me to see the Three Sisters and Katoomba Falls. He knocks off the metre as it reaches 50 and shows me more of his favourite views, chatting as he drives. He is a Ten Pound Pom who came over when he was 16.
“I didn’t have any choice. Children did what their parents told them in those days.”
But he doesn’t regret it. Loved the trip over on the boat and worked for P&O for years.
We pick up my luggage – I would never have got it up that hill. I replace the key in its secret hiding place. At Katoomba station my Ten Pound Pom leaves me at the top of the ramp.
“It’s down hill all the way from now on, “ he teases.
He might be right. I’m not sure I’m ready to go home.
Postscript: I would like to thank all the people who taught me so much about Australia and New Zealand; who shared their expertise and showed me around their museums; who took me to lunch, hosted and entertained me with such generosity. I would also like to thank my supervisors at the Geography Department of Queen Mary University of London and the V&A Museum of Childhood for all the support they give for my PhD in Childhood, Migration and Diaspora. It was sponsorship through the research fund of Queen Mary University of London that enabled this trip to happen. As part of this research I will also be visiting Europe and/or the US in the coming year to look at how migration is represented in museums and other venues.
Finally I would like to thank those who have read and commented on my blog. I am aware that it has covered a range of topics – museums, migration, social justice issues, travelogue, the personal and the anecdotal. To help me plan the next phase of this blog I would be very grateful for any feedback (on the blog/through email/in person) on what you have found most interesting, useful or entertaining. A bientot and thank you once again.