I grew up in Australian suburbia with little connection to the outside world beyond an early diet of American television sitcoms complete with canned laughter. My diet like everyone else’s around me was a steady supply of meat and three vegetables. My childhood world was of total freedom and few threats. We played in the street, visited friends uninvited and rode our bicycles without any of todays parenting fears. It didn’t register to me that elsewhere in the world others were living a very different life to my utopia.
The eldest, the tallest with my sister Diane, smirking Peter and Ian awaiting the dentist.
The first time I realised the world might be different was when my school days girlfriend, Irene invited me to her family’s European style delicatessen. A whole other world of meats, gooey smelly cheeses and pickles awaited me. I was brave and sampled everything and was duly rewarded. It left me wondering what sort of people eat this stuff by choice and survive !
I’d just turned 19 when Irene and I travelled to meet her relatives in Germany. I was so green, barely capable of finding my way to the airport. I learnt the hard way in Europe where the English language diminished with every step you took beyond the first airport. I learnt of different cultures and difference. I couldn’t speak to many of them but I was observant and fascinated. I was hooked on these people living very different lives half a world away from my safe haven.
The cycling bug returned in my early twenties. It was Keith Dunstan the journalist riding with Jeff Hook the cartoonist across America as part of the bi-centennial that whet my appetite. I hadn’t ridden a bicycle since school. I borrowed my young brothers school bikes for a cycling tour of Tasmania with a crazy friend. My brothers weren’t impressed either being forced to walk to school. The riding was harder than we thought , using muscles neither of us had used much. Tasmania was much hillier than I had imagined and we arrived each night completely spent.
But for all the new found aches and pains it was oh so satisfying. Importantly it was under our own steam, off into the unknown. I was caught up in the smells, the sounds and the exposure to life beyond my bubble. It was all happening around me without the isolating cocoon of a car.
Crazy….we are still friends today ! Jill Smith.
Into my thirties and work bogged me down like it does most of us. Aspiring to be the best I could in my chosen field eats into your life and stops you lifting your head. Around this time I met Robyn and after what she called an eternity we married. Together we began dreaming of long escapes to foreign lands. These dreams turned to plans and finally become reality at the end of each project. The day I finished a new building we would escape, off to explore another corner of the globe. Our journeys were an elixir, revitalising us and our marriage.
Far too early Robyn was diagnosed with breast cancer. She was determined to beat it and after two traumatic years was back travelling and enjoying life. We thought we had it beaten, fought and won. Unfortunately no, sadly it returned five years later. As resilient as Robyn was it invaded her body and slowly took her away. I felt helpless.
You are numb after such events, adrift with little comprehension and few answers, bitter at the unfairness of it all. They say time heals and we get on but some scars refuse to heal. I still miss her. The fragility of life had been on full display and I realised I had not cherished both my good health, my friends and the opportunities available to me.
I stopped procrastinating over minor issues and started to plan to squeeze as much as I could out of this one life we are given. There are few materials things I yearn for today I have everything I need. Experiences, embracing the new, being truly surprised, visiting the old and putting yourself out there without risking your life or others has become my aim. The world is still a fantastic, uplifting place. Full of caring, loving and imaginative people. This is contrary to what you might read in the daily papers or hear on the television. Get out there, breathe deep and embrace it. You might even catch yourself smiling.