I quit my job and left in search of koalas. I found lots koalas. I am leaving Australia in six days, and don't need to describe the excitement and sadness of leaving a place for a new one.
Since I've been here, people have asked me tentatively if I've liked it. For me there have been two Australias. The first was my first six months here, which saw me living in the forest and getting exploited by one employer after another. I loved living in the forest, with its freedom and excitement (see earlier posts for background, but basically I was picking grapes while not making enough money for accommodation and lived in the woods above Margaret River for three months). This was the first time ever while in a foreign country where I was told to "go home". Actually it was, "Go home, fucking backpackers, fuck you, go home". Welcome to the Land Down Under.
There was a constant campaign and flurry of letters to the editor of the small town paper describing what a problem it was for the locals to have travelers working in the town and fueling the local economy. It was a very very small, unfriendly town, completely oblivious to all the amazing individuals who were living on the fringes waking up in the morning and picking grapes. We were completely invisible to the locals. In response to one letter in the paper that called for the eviction of travelers by "whatever it takes", I wrote a letter to the editor, which became the first piece of mt writing I've ever seen in print. From the Augusta Margaret River Times, here it is:
FRIDAY MARCH 23, 2012
MARGARET RIVER IS 'HOSTILE' TO TRAVELLERS
I am beginning to feel nervous at Rotary Park. Being an itinerant grape picker with no permanent residence in Margaret River, I spend a lot of time in the city's parks. I cook, eat with my friends, play cards, read, write, sometimes toss a ball around, and do a lot of hiking in the woods. It is truly a gem of a park, and I do my best to make sure it is available at all times to whoever wants to use it. It is after all, a public space.
As far as I know, nothing I am doing is illegal. Like most people at Rotary Park, I never overnight in the carpark and certainly don't plan to. I pick up all my trash and more whenever it's time to clean up. I share this space with travellers from diverse areas of regional employment, from hospitality workers to housecleaners to winemakers. A lot of travellers who are living in the hostels or caravan parks pass their time at Rotary Park because it is such a wonderful place.
It seems that most travellers spending any time at Rotary Park are easily lumped together, viewed as a threat, and treated as such. In the most recent issue of the Times, Margaret River resident Nigel Leigh called for "whatever it takes" to keep foreign itinerant grape pickers from accessing Rotary Park. I hope this doesn't include violence, but this call to arms, coupled with the half-dozen threats passing motorists shout daily on the Bussell Highway is a bit troublesome.
As a migrant labourer-whose income is heavily taxed-I already feel pushed to the edges of Australian society. Now there are threats. This was not what I was expecting when I spent the last of my cash on an Australian work/holiday visa after a year on a bicycle en route from Portugal to China.
After all these countries, and all the cities, I have never had a more hostile welcome than in Margaret River. I invite anyone who is interested to come talk to the foreigners at Rotary Park. Or read the Grapes of Wrath, which is available from the local library, which I also use.
-Nathan Roter, somewhere between Cowaramup and Rotary Park
The only person that ever came to interact with us was a grumpy man with his family on Easter Sunday, who came to yell at us because my friend had parked briefly in a zone reserved for tour buses. There were no buses, and this man drove no bus. He came and accused us of being blind and too stupid to be able to read the signs that read "reserved for buses". He then insulted my friends' English. When as the only native English speaker I stepped in, he asked me if I was on drugs, reached past me and grabbed my journal and threw it across the park. I left the next weekend. Thankfully, I got to Melbourne, which has seemed like a new country.
So if you ask me if I liked Australia, I'll say, I loved Melbourne. This is my second Australia. Melbourne is a fine city. There is art and music everywhere, more so than anywhere else I have ever lived. It is surrounded by beautiful coast, and beautiful hills. The food is good, as are the people. The architecture is gorgeous, and in my unemployment I am finally getting a chance to appreciate and explore it. Most importantly, there's a seven storey IMAX screen where I watched Batman. If I hadn't come to Melbourne, I probably would've gone home in May. I'm so glad I came, and worked and saved, and now I can continue on.
This will be the last entry in this blog. It's been complicated, but in the end, this blog is full of inspiration. Throughout all the struggles and poverty, I can only be thankful that I don't have a family to feed, and that I was here completely on my own choice. Like applying for visas, if I get rejected, it only means I can't go explore that country. I'm not trying to go home and visit family, or work in a new country to support family.
So I started a new blog that will follow me to Shanghai and Mexico and back to California and home. Its address is:
Please read it! It'll be the best I can do! Also read www.supercontinental.blogspot.com!
Hell, become a follower! Tell your friends and family, and your local publisher as well!
Thanks for reading everyone, and come to Australia, have your own experience. After all, you can make $22 an hour washing dishes.