I’m A Little Bit Country…

Do you consider yourself a country or a town mouse?

I ‘d like to think of myself as more of an urban rat, but let’s face it, I’m a mother in suburbia.

Country living isn’t for me. Yes, I look at friends making tree changes with wonder, jealously gasping at the houses and the land.

But I know myself well enough to understand it would kill me to move to the sticks.

And yet, in spite of my need to be a little bit rock and roll (in my dreams), it turns out, I am a little bit country too.

After the Murray Man last week we decided to extend the road trip and explore the Grampians

I could feel the tension of the previous few weeks leaving me as we left the scorching plains of South Australia and moved into the cooler, greener, lusher landscape.

And the mountains.

Oh, my thing. I love beaches, but nothing tops (ha!) a beautiful mountain set against an unending sky.

We stayed in a caravan park at the foot of the hills, near  Halls Gap.

My twitter buddy Andrew had recommended some walks he enjoyed as a child, so first up was the Wonderland Walk – a canyon walk from wonderland car park to The Pinnacle.

It was an energetic walk and the kids did well to manage it. They loved spotting skinks (102 counted), lizards and wild flowers.

No idea, but very pretty

CM enjoying the rest

BW bringing up the rear through a very narrow part of the walk

The Pinnacle

All in the walk took about 3 hours and I would definitely recommend it. You’ll need good shoes and plenty of water. It’s definitely not suitable for strollers.

Although I wasn’t overly impressed with the place we were staying. The kids thought it was heaven. And as we all know, happy kids = happy parents.

CM and V busy recording their day

The boys first wild kangaroo

BW getting excited over the fire

Toasting marshmallows

CM eating a delicious s’more

Sparklers for the last night of the holiday

We had to leave our accommodation by 10 which meant we still had time to explore Halls Gap before our return to Melbourne.

We knew we wanted to return to Mackenzie Falls, where we had stopped briefly the day before, but J had also been given another spot to check out in Halls Gap. The Venus Baths.

A short walk from the centre of Halls Gap, through the car park and behind the tennis court is a track leading to a Botanical Garden. It was beautiful, and made even more special by the fact that it was tended solely by volunteers from the town.

Halls Gap Botanical Gardens

After about 10 minutes, we found the pools. There is usually more water, but nothing could stop the kids stripped to their undies and experimenting with bin bags to see who could slip fastest down the rocks.

Slipping and a sliding

Quite what the family next to us made of these loud, urchin children clad in bin bags, I’ll never know.

After a quick picnic lunch at MacKenzie Falls where we were dive bombed by kookaburra (too fast for my camera), we embarked on the descent to the bottom of the falls.

Mackenzie Falls

Crossing the river

The kids loved crossing the white water to get a closer look at the falls while their chicken licken mothers recorded their bravery on camera.

And then we had to the walk BACK UP! Oh my thighs…

The Grampians were majestic. I think we picked a great time to go as there was lots of spring flowers and it wasn’t too hot for the kids to enjoy the walks.

Being only 3 hours from Melbourne I’m definitely going back!

Have you visited the Grampians? Any suggestions for things to do on our return visit? Or  for country Victoria?

Road Trip!

By the time you read this I will have peeled my eyelids open and embarked on a trip to South Australia to do this.

As a Pom long road trips are a novelty.

In England this is what happens on a busy holiday weekend.

TS and I have been known to just stay home rather than sit in the giant car park that is the UK road system.

Lots of huffing and puffing. Lots of staring at the back of the car in front. Lots of “why did we take this road?”

And the service stations. Hell on earth.

Driving through the lush green countryside of the UK can be wonderful, however, all too soon another town or village appears.

Then.

Australia.

Since we arrived we have driven twice to Adelaide to see my best friend.

Once we left Melbourne,I was staggered at the miles and miles (or should I say kilometre after kilometre) of nothing.

Well, not nothing, obviously.

Wide open spaces. As far as the eye could see. I could not stop exclaiming to TS (who has been in love with Australia since forever and visited several times before we met).

Perfection.

I will never get bored with this.

Happy Aussaversary!

Today is the 1st anniversary of our arrival in Melbourne.

Woah! What a ride. I’m sure I should have been issued with a safety helmet.

It has been, in equal measure, the most thrilling and terrifying, happy and miserable, relaxing and exhausting year of my life. It is put strain on our marriage and made us question our sanity, but in spite of all the black moments, we know we made the right decision for our family.

In the UK The Saint had been commuting from Brighton to London for 15 years. In winter he left for work in the dark and returned home in the dark. The children saw him for half an hour just before bedtime. We were in a rut.

One evening while on our summer holiday, we had one of those wine-fuelled conversations, “what are we doing?” “where are we going?”. The subject of moving overseas was raised. We loved the idea but were unsure of how to make it happen.

Three months later The Saint’s job came up in Sydney. Same company, same job, but in Australia. Fate had intervened.

It was very stressful year in the run up to leaving the UK. Medicals, worry that we would be denied a visa because of Boy Wonder’s Asperger’s, and the doozy of them all our beloved Granny B being diagnosed with cancer and passing away 6 weeks before we left the UK.

Nothing could have prepared us for the emotional experience of leaving friends and loved ones behind and I was very naive when I arrived:

“Oh, you mean I’m not the first Pom to move here?”

“Oh, you haven’t all been waiting for me to come into your lives and be your amazing new friend?”

There have been some set-backs – I was unable to pursue my studying and – yikes- Australia, you are sooooo expensive! Plus the hard graft that goes into working out the new system for a child with Asperger’s has been draining.

In spite of it all, we LOVE it here!

In a nutshell:

Tim tams, Cherry Ripe (dark chocolate), sunshine, sea, daddy around more – YAY!

Vegemite- No. I’m sorry, I persevered for 4 months, but no. Marmite is my one true love.

There are plenty of forums and websites our there catering for those expat needs, but here are my tips on surviving the move:

DO’s:

1. Check blogs and forums before you arrive, researching as much as you can. It will save you a lot of time if you can narrow down the areas and schools you are interested in. We only had 3 weeks to find somewhere to live and a new school. Not easy, especially with 2 boys in tow, raging jetlag and no idea what we were doing.

2. Use twitter! Oh my, it was a godsend! I found some great contacts.

2. Ask lots of questions when you arrive. Australians are a friendly bunch who love talking about their country and sharing tips on where to go/stay etc. Although, I was freaked out by number of times we were asked which AFL team we would be supporting, but then we did arrive in Finals week…(FYI The Saint goes for Demons, we go for Saints, ha!).

3. Treat it like a holiday. Explore! It’s a great, big country and you need to get to see as much as you can.

4. Keep busy. I don’t work (at the moment)  and once The Saint started his new job and the Boys started school the house felt empty. I helped out in Cheeky Boy’s class, only for an hour a week, but it gave me something to look forward to.

5. Join a club. It’s a great way to meet people. We joined a triathlon club.  The Boys enrolled in Nippers (Junior Lifesaving). An activity plus a social side. Good fun.

6. Say “YES!” to everyone who asks you for coffee. We all know good friends are hard to find and never more so when you are ‘new’. I likened it to digging for gold. You have to mine a lot of rocks, to find that nugget!

7. Look after yourself. I was completely unprepared for how the move would affect my mental health. It’s very common to feel low during a big life changing move. Seek support and advice from your doctor or via Beyond Blue.

8. Remind yourselves daily why you made the move!

DON’T

1. Underestimate the financial hardship of starting afresh. It will get better, but be prepared as you will have some large outlays to begin with for example a car, bond for house, school uniform etc.

2. Compare your new home unfavourably with the motherland. There are petty annoyances everywhere you live, but banging on about them with the citizens of your new country will alienate them. NO ONE LIKES A WHINGING POM.

3. Endlessly check up on Facebook/email what your friends back home are doing. Particularly if you are homesick. Too much looking back stops you looking forward.

I Heart Twitter

Facebook is making me cranky at the moment.

Some days it’s one long stream of advertising with weird stuff my friends have ‘liked’ after too many vinos.

Other days I’m bored rigid with statuses telling me how fabulous their lives are, when I know that in reality the husband can’t keep it in their pants, and that they are only staying together for the sake of the kids.

Twitter, however, floats my boat. I know there is a dark side and I’m not going to write about it here, as others have done so already, and far more eloquently than I could.

There are nasty people in real life. It’s how you respond that’s the key.

Moving 16,000 km from the UK was one of our better ideas, but neither of us were prepared for the harsh reality of the move. There have been times of loneliness, isolation and despair.

In those moments I turned to twitter.

For the laughs, certainly. Where else would you find out about a cat called Henri? Or a rabbit discovering the disappointment of sex?

I love the women in my twitter feed. Their powerful voices and humour are given a platform that they just aren’t in real life. My twitter heroine at the moment is Jane Caro who set the twittersphere alight with her #destroythejoint tag in response to the rantings of Alan Jones.

I’ve shared my angst about Boy Wonder, about Asperger’s, parenting, even the best place to go for dinner. I’ve sought advice and reassurance and I’ve received it in spades.

There is an article published nearly every week about how meaningful relationships are being affected by social media. I think that’s stupid. Via twitter I am able to seek out those with whom I have a genuine affinity rather than being strait-jacketed into social groups where the only thing we have in common is the fact that our children are in the same grade at school.

I have met some lovely people since I arrived, but it takes time to create friendships where mutual trust is a given. Often, I am playing “the new girl” and putting on a front. Not being fake exactly, but behaving like someone on the first day at a new job. You can’t show your crazy self too soon, can you?

On twitter, I can say what I want, when I want.

If I don’t like what someone is saying, I quietly unfollow. If they turn out to be racist bigots I can block them. Oh, how I’d LOVE to be able to do that in real life!

Last week, during the lead up to RUOK? day, I certainly wasn’t ok. The number of people who reached out to me on twitter with kind words or humour was heartwarming and humbling at the same time.

My twitter is full of tweeps who make me laugh, offer encouragement to blog, reach out a hand when I’m having a falling down day, or share a virtual gin.

And I love it.