On this day, forty years ago, I stepped off an aeroplane at Perth Airport, wondering what on earth this new place would be like. It was 3am and I was 9 years old, so I was more than a little tired, but I can still remember the first thing that hit me – the smell of eucalyptus. The airport was surrounded by bushland and the eucalyptus scent hung in the warm air like a blanket.
We were driven from the airport to our accommodation – an old house owned by the Anglican Church. It was so different from the houses I was used to, with its wide verandahs and massive rooms and it had a musty smell I’ll never forget.
I slept until 11am the next morning and awoke to the brightest sunshine I’d ever seen. The colours of this place were so much brighter, too. The sky was bluer, the whites dazzling. The trees were a strange olive colour, not the dark green of English trees. Out in the garden, the nasturtiums that ran rampant all over the back yard were a more vivid yellow and orange than any English flowers.
In the garden was a tree, a huge tree with easy to climb branches. In the first few weeks, I spent a lot of time in that tree, though I didn’t like sharing it the crusader bugs, large beetles with crosses on their backs that moved with jerky little movements like badly animated puppets. Then one day I encountered another creature I definitely didn’t want to come to close to – a giant black spider. Well, by English standards it was a giant. By Australian standards it was probably quite your average arachnid, but in my haste to get away from it, I fell out of the tree, squashing quite a few of those bright nasturtiums in the process. Nasturtiums smell quite bad when you squash them.
Food in Australia was strange too. Neapolitan icecream came in all sorts of colours, including white, green and orange, each with its own distinct and, to my palate, not particularly pleasant taste. Then there were ‘Skippy’ cornflakes that had all the flavour and consistency of wet cardboard. Of course, after forty years, I enjoy Aussie tucker now, but those things stick in my brain.
Having said all that, I’ve only been back to England once since we came, when I was in my twenties. Admittedly it was the middle of winter and it was freezing cold and miserable, but I found myself feeling grateful to my parents for emigrating. Everything seemed so dark and crowded. The only time I felt I could really breathe was when I was on the moors in the north. Then I could see for miles and that’s how I like it. I regret the lack of history here. I could have spent a whole month in York alone, just looking at the history. I’m sure I would have stuck to my Archaeology if I’d been in England. But Australia is definitely the land I think of as home.