I have always thought of myself as a country girl. I was born in Bristol, a pretty big city in the south west of England but lived on the outskirts as a child, surrounded by fields and open spaces. I then moved into the city for my 20s, misspending my youth and generally behaving badly for a decade. In my 30s, I moved out to Somerset and grew vegetables and went to dances at the village hall and drank in the only pub in the village - well, there were three actually but it sounds more remote to say there was only one.
Then in 2007, we moved to Sydney. Here, we live on the Northern Beaches five minutes from the beach where there are a dozen restaurants and cafes to choose from. There is a bus at the end of the road which, if you go North, takes you to the middle of a National Park or will take you to the steps of the Opera House if you take it the other way into the city. It's actually the perfect distance from everywhere you could wish to be.
So when we were planning this next voyage from the Mediterranean back to Australia, we knew we would have to spend the Northern Hemisphere winter back in Australia working to top up the sailing fund and it would have to be in the country somewhere where we could earn good money and save. We were actually looking forward to it when we were sitting in the cockpit of Matilda in a beautiful Greek anchorage, sipping a cold Mythos. It would be a great opportunity to see a bit of Australia we wouldn't normally get to see. We would immerse ourselves in the country way of life, experiencing a type of life even most Australians don't normally get to do. We would get to know everyone in the town and join in all that it had to offer.
With this optimism, I got a job in a little hospital in Morawa, about four hours north of Perth in what they call the Wheatbelt. This is an area of 150,000 square kilometres, mostly containing - well, wheat. And some iron ore mines, and some sheep. The hospital has 10 beds for elderly residents who can no longer look after themselves at home and 4 beds for acute patients that do not need to be transferred to a bigger hospital but need some medical/nursing care. It also has a small Emergency Department that anybody can walk into. Brilliant. Exactly what I had hoped for and pretty well paid too as it is classed as remote so there are quite a few perks that come with living in the sticks.
It began quite well. Once we were here, Andy quickly got himself a job in the local quarry, driving an excavator and washing 300 tons of blue stone a day. We were quite smug that we had done so well with such apparent ease.
I had been working for a few weeks when I remembered something. I've done this all before! Shift work, nights, lates, earlies, 8 days on then one day off, then straight onto nights again. Incontinence, lifting heavy men who have had strokes, showering people, turning patients every 3 hours to prevent pressure sores, giving enemas (I had really thought my days of doing that were well over!), staff who think they are senior to me so can tell me how to do something, despite having never worked in an Emergency Dept before, managers who have targets to achieve so they think they can bully you into doing something you really don't feel you can do (some of you will be nodding your heads at this point!) and doctors who speak to you as if you came down with the last shower and wouldn't recognise a fractured calcaneum if it stepped on you! Am I sounding bitter??
And when not working, there is nothing to do. Nothing. It's 40 C outside night and day. A nice evening walk is out. The pub, let's say, lacks charm. The people are the same. No one has invited us round for a barbie and, in fairness, we haven't invited anyone round to our house either. Meeting a fellow yachtie and, within minutes, chatting like old mates and joining them for a sundowner seem like a distant memory!
The saving grace is spending time with our lovely friends, Mel and Darren, and their kids who are delightful and hopefully now will know us forever. We have had some lovely times with them and are planning a few more before we head off back to Greece.... in 60 days. Not that we're counting!
27/12/2013, Nambung National Park, WA
After Christmas, Andy and I had a couple of days off together so we went down to Nambung National Park, about 200k south of us on the coast, to see the Pinnacles. The Pinnacle Desert is a big tourist attraction which attracts over 250,000 visitors a year. It's about 17,000 hectares and is covered with thousands of limestone Pinnacles, some up to 5m tall.
I visited here in 1997 and, in those days, you could just rock up and have a look. Now you have to join a queue of cars to get in and pay an entrance fee. Then, at the end, is the ubiquitous Interpretive Centre and shop. It always makes me feel that I've got to go and learn about what I've just seen rather than just enjoy it. And buy something from the shop (which I did of course).
Billy Connelly went there in his World Tour of Australia programme and ran naked through the Pinnacles sparking a rash of similar escapades which you can find on Youtube. I asked Andy to for the sake of this blog but he declined. Probably just as well. Might have started a Flash Mob Streak!
Before we left Australia last February, we were both awarded citizenship but still have to have the ceremony before we can vote or get an Australian passport. We had to have this within the year so requested to be able to have the ceremony over in WA when we returned.
I had always fantasized that we would have our ceremony in Sydney, possibly on Australia Day, possibly with the Prime Minister and the Governor General present (Miriam Margoles was never in the fantasy but appears to have wormed her way into the photo!)
We would then spend the day with friends on the Harbour watching all the Australia Day events going on around us. A helicopter would fly over trailing the Aussie flag and we would drink champagne whilst watching an amazing firework display on the Harbour Bridge with the Opera House in the background. I didn't even mind if Leo Sayer was singing again!
We, in fact, ended up having it in the Council Chambers at the office of the Shire of Morawa last Thursday after the council meeting!
Not quite what I'd planned but, have to say, it turned out to be a cracking little ceremony. Mel, Darren and the kids came and another family were being 'done' at the same time which made it even more special. We pledged our allegiance to Australia, sang Advance Australia Fair and were given a beautiful certificate and a native Australian plant.
We then all repaired to the Morawa Hotel for a Chicken Parma and a schooner of Emu Export! Can't get more Aussie than that! G'Day Mates!