Conor and I had this brilliant idea when I accepted my job in Indonesia… “Let’s go to Australia for Christmas!!”
I’ve always wanted to go to Australia, but not for the typical kangaroo, crocodile Dundee, shrimp on the barbie reasons. My dad has three sisters who immigrated to Australia around or before the time he himself immigrated to the US, so I’ve grown up very far from a big part of my family. I’d met parts of each of the three families, including at least one cousin from each family, either in Ireland or in the US, but I’d never met one of my aunts & uncles, and a cousin. The other cousins I had met years ago –some 10 or 12 years ago, and I didn’t feel like I really knew any of them as an adult. So this trip was an opportunity to do just that!
Conor and I flew Jakarta-Kuala Lumpur and KL to Melbourne. We didn’t do the best job in planning where we were going first and all that, so we had just a night and a day in Melbourne at first. We stayed with our cousin Dave, his wife Kylie, and their newborn son, Louis. Conor and I have great memories of Dave, because he came traveling through Virginia when he was 26 and stayed with us at our dad’s for about a month and a half. He was hilarious then, and I’m happy to report he’s still hilarious. I don’t think I’ve ever laughed as much. Don’t just take my word for it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HYR9svRKTe0
It was great to see him and meet his new family.
We headed up the coast after a day for Christmas with another part of the family, knowing we’d be back in Melbourne for 4-5 days at the end of our trip. And we saw Dave on the plane anyway:
We got picked up from the airport in Ballina by our Aunt Helen & Uncle Don. It was great to see them. We’d spent time with them in Ireland as well as in Virginia, but I hadn’t seen them in maybe 7 years?
We had a great evening catching up on their deck that overlooks fields, with the ocean in the distance.
The next day, after an incredible packing-of-the-car, with objects in every possible crevice of the car, we headed to Tenterfield in the mountains, where my Aunt Dora & Uncle Dick live, and where we were gathering for Christmas.
Our 5 days there were amazing. I felt totally at home, and their property was beautiful. They’ve got sheep, chickens (or chooks!), a creek, woods, a Celtic rock garden, a massive fruit/veggie garden, a sanctuary built by Uncle Dick with the rocks from around the property, and just loads more. It was great to sit on their porch looking out towards the mountains—just like being at home. Except it was summertime at Christmas! (crazy!)
We spent the days there eating lovely food (how I missed nice foods, especially CHEESE), and drinking wine (which I also seriously miss in Indonesia!) And drinking gallons of tea. My Uncle Dick one afternoon said, “shall we go in, I’m gaspin for a cuppa tea!” And for some reason, I find this expression hilarious and amazing, and have adopted it for myself. That’d definitely be a much more Irish expression than Australian as they’re all from Ireland, but I DID learn some new Australian vocab:
I learned new words like “chook” (chicken), “bogen” (redneck), “eski” (cooler), and most importantly, a call if you’re looking for someone and you want their attention: “cooooooooeeeee”, myself and Aisling, my cousin Brian’s 2 year old daughter, both practiced our ‘cooees’ over Christmas.
On Christmas day, we had presents with Aisling (and everyone), and then went to brunch at a neighbor’s house. It was amazing, there were stations of food: cereal station, tea station, fruit station, bread station, meat/eggs station. Yum! And then following breakfast, they broke out the jello shots and champagne! Whaaaat!? ! Gotta love Australian Christmas!
We pulled the Christmas crackers and got an awesome deck of tiny cards which we enjoyed far too much. My cousin Joey taught her dad how to play 52 card pick up.
We went swimming in the creek Christmas afternoon—twas glorious! And it was so strange to be swimming on Christmas day. Afterwards my cousins Mark and Brian started up a game of backyard cricket, and then taught me how to play. It’s kind of like baseball, but a bit different. I rocked it of course. (sometimes). It was really fun though. Christmas dinner was a feast of lamb, chicken, ham, potatoes, sweet potatoes, salads, wine, desserts, yum, I’m depressing myself back here in Indonesia!
Boxing Day (the 26th of December) started with an Irish breakfast, thanks to Brian who has an Irish butcher in Brisbane. We played more cricket in the park with Joey’s boyfriend’s family & ended the night with a dance party at the house—complete with Wagon Wheel—my favorite was Dora yelling “more bluegrass!” She’d fit right in at home in Virginia!
I felt really sad when the festivities were all over (around the 28th?) and everyone headed out. It was such a memorable week and I truly felt like I had gotten to know my family. It really sucked leaving, because you never know when you’ll see people again. Immediate family, yet we leave on opposite sides of the world. Which is why, when I grow up (shut up, Conor, I know I’m already grown up), but when I grow up, Conor is not allowed to move that far from me. Although I guess I should watch myself for being the one to live far away…
Conor & I went to Sydney for New Year’s Eve, rockin up around 7pm into the airport. We got the train into town, full of early partiers… we found our hostel with help from a nice man who noticed we looked lost. We got ready & headed out to dinner at a nearby spot. We stayed in King’s Cross, which apparently is the red-light district! Beggars really couldn’t be choosers, considering we found like the last room in Sydney 3 days before NYE.
Basically we had no idea where to go or what to do. Obviously, we wanted to see the harbor for fireworks, but it’s like Time’s Square on NYE—chockers! So I asked a bar-girl where we should go and she said they had already roped off the famous area by the opera house. So she recommended a nearby park with a view of the harbor. It was still around 9pm, so we walked down to check it out, approved, and then wandered up to find a place to have a drink. We found a bar attached to a bottle shop (where you buy alcohol) and we went in there for a drink. Mistake. After ordering our drinks, we quickly realized the bar sucked. Terrible music, terrible ambiance (I know I sound like a tool), and freaky weird/funny clientele. Some guy came out of the kitchen singing a bad song and we just looked around us and realized it was the crappest bar ever—but luckily this struck as extremely hilarious, so we had a good laugh and downed our drinks and left. We really are not good planners apparently.
We tried another bar-got turned away for our lack of fancy shoes. “Another New Year’s ruined!!” hah. So we went back to the bottle-shop, got a few cans and went back to the park (even though we found out the cops were looking for drinkers!) What can I say, I live on the edge. We sat in the park, and then wandered to another part of the park where there was a view of the bridge across the harbor. The fireworks were amazing—massive. Afterwards, we headed back to the hostel, only to be informed by the hostel worker that we were the first back! I cringed, Conor laughed and told me I should go out and make friends. I inherited the party genes from my dad and apparently Conor missed out. It’s okay not to have a wild NYE, and anyway, we had a great time.
We did the touristy things to do in Sydney: we went to the Opera house, took a ferry, checked out Circular Quay, went to the aquarium.
Also in Sydney we found a really cool area called Newtown that was full of cafes, antique shops, bookshops, second-hand shops, and just chilled out one day wandering the streets and reading in cafes.
We met our cousin, Paul, in Sydney as well—he couldn’t come to Christmas, so we wanted to meet him. It was great to talk to him over dinner, and he had a lot of memories of our Nana in Ireland which were so lovely to hear.
Probably most importantly in Sydney: Conor found Dr. Pepper.
After Sydney we went back to Melbourne by train. It was about a 12 hour train ride! It actually wasn’t too bad. Slept a little bit, but read most of the time—was great.
In Melbourne, our cousin, Mark picked us up from the train station. The following day we went to Healesville Sanctuary which has Australian animals—marsupials galore! When you pay for entrance, they offer you a “Magic moment” with their animals, meaning if you pay $10, you can pet/feed whichever animal you want (except the koals, cause they’ll rip your face off?) So we bought magic moments with the kangaroos—me, Conor, Mark, & his girlfriend, Bec. It was the hottest day on record in about 40 years, I think maybe 104 or something? We attempted the Farenheit/Celcius conversion multiple times, but I quickly gave up. I felt like I was in a microwave. “but it’s a dry heat” whatever, it’s flippin HOT!
I saw a wombat for the first time, and I loved her! Such a cool animal, I want a pet one.
Another magic moment we had at the Sanctuary was this sign:
After our magical moments, we went swimming in the Yarra River to cool off. That night, had a barbeque with Mark & his friends at their house that had a pool. Lovely. The next night, we ate kangaroo! I felt a little bad after our magic moment with that other kangaroo, but it was pretty tasty.
In Melbourne, Conor and I rode bikes into the city, and got a bit lost, and ended up taking our bikes onto the train. The city center was really beautiful. Melbourne is a really cool city—full of art, culture, music, events. In the city square, they were showing Dr. Seuss’-Horton Hears a Who. We wandered in search a bookshop… it was funny, no matter what city we were in, Conor & I would end up in a bookshop. Most were pretty expensive though.
That night we found a cool street (after about an hour and a half of being lost-ish) named Brunswick Street. It was loaded with restaurants, bars & cafes. We were searching for a place with live music, but didn’t really succeed. It was right after New Year’s, so a lot of places were still closed or not too hoppin. We finally ate dinner at a Greek place, and then went to a cool bar with loads of couches. I ordered a glass of wine, and Conor couldn’t decide. He finally decided on a chocolate milkshake, which was hilarious. I love my brother, he’d rather have a chocolate milkshake than a beer, and that’s a-okay with me.
We went to a movie the next day (another scorcher) and saw Life of Pi at a really cool theater—was like the Lyric in Blacksburg except bigger. Afterwards we took a tram to St. Kilda Beach and walked around and watched the sun set and then headed home.
Our last day in Melbourne, Conor and I went back to Dave & Kylie’s house and had lunch with them and hung out. We celebrated Kylie’s birthday, and went on a bush-walk. Dave gave Conor an awesome hat of his, and decided that it would not be another ten years before we saw each other again!
It was an amazing trip. I am resolved to stay in touch with my family in Australia, and I WILL see them again. Getting to know your family is such a gift, one you take for granted if your family lives nearby, or if you get to see them yearly or twice a year (as we’re so lucky to do with our mom’s side). It let me get to know two of my dad’s sisters better, and see the similarities between myself and cousins, including the same feet as my cousin, Brian! (it’s true!) Similar music taste to Joey & Dora—and Joey also teaches ESL. My Aunt Helen showed us some photos of our great-grandparents that I’d never seen, and Mark and Dave are so darn musical that I swear there must be that talent deep down in me somewhere! Also, spending a full month with Conor, with few breaks for alone time (a challenge with anyone), was pretty easy. We had a day in Sydney and a day in Melbourne where we split off and went solo, but overall we traveled really well together which is a great relief! He’s a much better tourist than me, and made sure we saw the sights. If it were up to me I’d find the cafes and just sit around and read. To be fair, he likes that too, but he made sure we saw the good stuff. Thanks, bro—even if I was a grumpy bugger sometimes.
Thanks for tuning in to Hands on Tour- Part 2! It was a success—and a special shout out to my awesome family in every part of the world where they are; that is my Christmas lesson. Appreciate your family!