In February 2012 I visited Australia for the first time. On this fateful trip, I conducted a little survey with every Australian I met by asking them: “Would you say you’re happy?”. I know – pretty confronting, right?
But I was in shock. I couldn’t believe this magic place existed. A place where everything was the same in some ways: people worked 9-5, rode public transport into the city, had weekends off, hung out with their friends…except it was sunny, warm and the ocean was right there. And nature. And so much green. I met people who had the exact same job as me…but lived in Bondi beach. They would go to work, then come home and…go for a surf! They would hang out with their friends on the grassy knoll on weekends and then head to someone’s house for a barbie (barbecue to the uninitiated) to finish off the day. They had 20 DAYS OF VACATION. They were allowed to take unpaid leave. They also smiled a lot and seemed very relaxed. There was a general sense that these were people who were enjoying the life they were living…as they were living it. It was not about someday, it was happening right now.
But I had always loved Australians, from my fateful days spent on a little island in Greece during two uni summers. My best friend and I became friends with a group of Aussies then and we loved their easy going, straightforward attitudes. They were just generally good and decent people and we had so much fun.
So when I asked the happy question, the immediate reaction was “…ah, what?” Haha. But then in true Aussie fashion they would ‘give it a go’ and the response was always along the lines of “Yeah, I guess I am.”.
This gave my Toronto-conditioned brain a real jolt. If I’d asked the same question back home the answers would have been along the lines of “I can’t really complain, it could be worse.” to the classic “Is anyone really happy?”. This general attitude of complacency never sat well with me. I didn’t get it. I didn’t understand how you could think that and then keep finding the motivation to go forward. I’d experienced some really big highs and lows in my life already and my whole adulthood in Toronto felt like this one long string of baseline ‘meh’ ness, with a highly anticipated once-a-year, week long Mediterranean vacation and a few summer weekends at a cottage thrown into the mix. And on top of all that were more and more frequent moments of real existential despair. How could this really be as good as it gets?
Well, it turns out it wasn’t. At least not in Australia. The secret was out (to me). I had found the place that made sense to my brain. The place that made life worth living. I had peeked behind the curtain. I had seen the emerald city. And there was no going back.
I spent the last day of this fateful first trip by myself. I walked through the city and suntanned at Bondi beach. I observed everyone and everything. I soaked up as much as I could and wrote it all down: the things people said to each other, the difference in attitude, my complex feelings of wonderment. I never even dreamed at that point that I could actually live there one day. That Bondi would be my backyard. That I would swim every morning in that beautiful, freezing cold sea. That I would get so used to sunshine that a rainy day would be welcomed.
I wrote it all down and promised myself to find a way to somehow live like that back in Toronto. I was blown over, but I still didn’t see how that amazing place could ever be MY life. So I went home and tried to keep that sunshine with me.
Six months later I applied for my Australian Working Holiday visa. A year and a half later* I was living in my apartment in Bondi.
And that’s how my love affair with Australia began.
*A whole hell of a lot went on in between then (hello separation from my partner, living a wild life in Costa Rica, working on a farm in small town New South Wales), but that would literally take a novel to write…or many, many more stories.