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It wasn’t as strange as I thought.
Walking through passport control, baggage reclaim and then arrivals. It was all so familiar.
I knew where I had to go to get to the train that would take me into the city centre. The double decker trains that I saw for the first time in Sydney many years back. The ones where the back rest moves so that passengers can all face the same way, or slide it the other way and groups can face each other. I had forgotten about those.
I got off at Circular Quay. I knew this station well. I had passed through many times. Now though, I still had my backpack on, I had a few hours to kill before I could check in so heading somewhere so memorable made sense.
Within minutes I could see the Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge. It always amazes me that from landing to to seeing the most recognisable sites in the city, and one of the most recognisable buildings in the world, took less than an hour.
The weather was cold and gloomy. As I landed, the pilot informed everyone that there were thunderstorms in the area. Now was the aftermath. The pavement still wet. Clouds low in the sky. My jumper was still needed, to keep me warm yes, but also to protect others around me as I had been sitting in a metal tube without a shower for 24 hours.
But 5 years is a long time and there had been changes. Maybe not with Sydney but with me.
“Hey, how’s it going?” came the introduction as I asked for a coffee. “Gooood!” came the elongated, emphasised and chirpy reply when I asked the same back. The Australian accent, once sounding as normal as my own mother tongue, now sounded foreign again. Not unknown like hearing a language you don’t understand, but giving flashbacks and memories of conversations years ago.
I headed to my hotel. The cars going past me were so similar and different too. Holdens and ute’s, not seen for years. We don’t have those in London. The number plates on all the cars seemed squarer, the text blockier. Bringing back memories of the van I owned in Australia all those years ago.
I waited to cross the street. “No jaywalking in Australia” was one of the first rules I had learnt the first time. There was a slow steady beep, like a pulse, from the traffic lights as the man stayed red. Then suddenly, the slow beep was replaced with what sounded like a laser firing and the man turns green. PEEEWOOOOW. The adrenaline kicks in and the beeps are louder, faster, more urgent, like a smoke alarm, as if to tell you to get across the road as quickly as possible. The man turns back to red when I was barely halfway across and the pulse returns. I remember getting the kick of adrenaline years back but it subsided over time. Now it was back.
I checked into my hotel and stepped onto the balcony. The damp from the rain mixed with the sweetness of the gum trees. The smell brought back memories. It smelled of Australia. The white cockatoo’s squawked away in the trees. A distinct sound. An Australian sound.
Five years since I had been in Australia. It had once felt like home. Now it was strangely foreign but strangely familiar at the same time.
I had lived in Australia for 2 years on a working holiday visa. I flew into Sydney in early December 2015 to tick off one of my bucket list items, watching the New Years Eve fireworks over the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
I spent a month in Sydney before settling for work in Coffs Harbour and travelling around the rest of Australia. But I kept coming back and passing through Sydney. By my own rough count, I have passed through Sydney airport 8 times now and the city itself more than that.
Apart from the month when I first arrived, I’ve actually never stayed long term in Sydney. I had 13 jobs in my 2 years in Australia but not one was in Sydney. But even so, Australia’s largest city still feels like somewhere so familiar. Not like home, but like the home of your best mate. You know where everything is and how it all works, but you’ll always be an outsider.
In December 2017, I left Australia. Flying out of Sydney airport to New Zealand to start a new adventure “across the ditch”, bringing my time in Australia to an end. Figuratively and literally Sydney meant I had meant I had gone full circle in Australia. I began and ended in Sydney, and now I begin again.
Dan is an avid traveller from London. His first big adventure was in 2010 living in Malaysia for 3 months and becoming a divemaster. He has been on the road almost constantly since 2015 travelling to destinations that aren’t on the mainstream tourist trail.