Words and images by Martha Jennings
I arrived at Adelaide International airport on the 22nd July 2019 with only a hiking rucksack and backpack (to say I had under-packed is an understatement). Riding the bus from the airport to my accommodation was an exciting paradise of blinding sun. In my student accommodation I was surrounded with students from all around the world, who taught me as much about their culture as Australians taught me. At times it felt like a mini microcosm. The first couple of weeks were hectic but thrilling. I seemed to meet new people every hour as I bumped into them in the corridors of my accommodation. My flatmates and I wandered the streets of Adelaide, exploring art galleries, parks and cafes. Dissimilar to English universities, I was able to choose courses outside of my degree subject as I opted for a geography, poetry and Spanish class, as well as history across my year abroad. The most rewarding class I attended covered the history of the Stolen Generations; the removal of children of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander descent from their families by the Australian federal and state government. I must commend Adelaide University for its warm welcome that it offered to international and exchange students, which made my year abroad much more enjoyable.
As I grew used to the “Aussie lifestyle”, I realised that Australia was more than BBQ’s, Bondi Beach rescue and terrifying spiders. Australia is a multi-racial, multilingual country bigger than the size of Europe. Its consistently changing landscapes and various weather climates made it the perfect country for a year’s exploration. The rainforests of Cairns in Queensland, dominated by the wet and dry season, juxtaposed the Mediterranean climate of South Australia, lined with rows upon rows of rich vineyards, rather like the Spanish countryside.
However, as much as Australia is a wonderful country, its dark history of Aboriginal people and Torres Strait Islanders persecution is very much embedded into today’s society. To not speak about Aboriginal people or Torres Strait Islanders in this article would be ignorant and not a truthful perspective of my experience in Australia. The government’s ignorance and clear lack of help towards Aboriginal people and Torres Strait Islanders is visible daily, with many unemployed and without government aid. The daily racism which Aboriginal people endure was highlighted most prominently when my girlfriend and I attended The Black Lives Matter protest in March, in Adelaide. During the protest black Australians and Aboriginal people spoke bravely about their experiences of racism in Australia, with much of the discrimination dominated by police brutality leading to mass incarceration. Thinking back to the anger and sadness I felt that day when faced with the inequality that still ripples through Australia, it is certain that awareness and vocalisation of such matters is important now, more than ever, to advocate for change.
In August 2019, my friends and I visited Uluru, a sacred place for Aboriginal people, in the middle of the outback. We drove 995.5 miles from Adelaide to Uluru. Through pleasant winter sun and cold silent nights, the rusty orange desert sand spanned to the horizon and back. One of my favourite memories comes from this trip. One night whilst travelling up to Uluru it was dark and we stopped on the side of the road for a break. We climbed out of the shaky 6 berth campervan into the windless, eerie desert. I distinctly remember being surprised at how still it was. I felt no breeze on my cheeks and saw no movement. Then we glanced up at the stars. I then suggested we lie on the empty road as there were no cars. All 6 of us laid down, backs against the warm concrete gazing up at the billions of stars which covered the vast night sky, with not even the slightest trace of light pollution to dim the breathtaking scene.
One of the most unexpected things that happened during my year abroad is that I met my girlfriend. Like the narrative of a romance novel we met through friends of friends and began talking. Late-night conversations and meeting up to play pool in my student accommodation, lead to a romantic connection. My girlfriend is from Malaysia, making us both new to Australia, so we explored the city together discovering quaint spots along the River Torrens and many independent cafes. In January and February of 2020, we travelled to Vietnam and Malaysia together. This was my first trip to Asia, and I loved every minute of it. We roamed around Buddhist temples, drank Vietnamese coffee and snorkeled off the coast of Kota Kinabalu in East Malaysia. Truly a traveler’s dream.
In the midst of my travels throughout the year, from Cairns, to Melbourne, Sydney, Kangaroo Island and New Zealand, I encountered jaw-dropping but at times shocking experiences. My friend and I travelled to Sydney during the bushfire season. We stayed in a hostel on the edge of the city center for 4 days. On one of those days we took the train to Newtown, a suburb just outside the city center, coated in thought-provoking graffiti and brightly painted buildings. Just as we were walking down the street, ash fell like snow and settled in my hair. When reflecting on my emotions in this moment, it was not fear that I felt, but shock. Shocked by the realisation of the closing distance between myself and the bushfires. But also, the further realisation of how disassociated I had become with the effects of climate change until I had personally witnessed it: the bleached Great Barrier Reef and the smokey haze which had clouded our view of the Sydney Opera house.
Returning home on the 20th July 2020, I landed at Heathrow Airport with my mother eagerly awaiting my arrival. I hugged her tightly after not seeing her for 6 months. During the drive home I could not shake the thought of feeling like a tourist in my home country. It all seemed too small and cramped but I was happy to see my friends and family. Returning to my previous life which I had left a year ago in England was tricky. It felt like building from the start: daily routines, living in a different place, facetiming my girlfriend.
Slowly but surely, I found my feet again.
I would like to end this article with a free verse poem I wrote during my time abroad. I believe this poem truly encompasses what it was like to live in Adelaide, experiencing each season as the year passed by, to how the city looked from my perspective.
Smoke infused trams
Is this winter?,
no familiar frost caught in the sunrise
a glimpse at
early nights and late days gone by
not even the continuous rain to dampen the adrenaline
it is an exposure to the recent closure I
find myself a
small firefly amongst the
red trees strewn like a
village of volcanoes ready to blossom if
Spring shall ever come in this desert I now call
a lovers picnic:
coffee bitter……… on many tongues of
Summer now pulsing through their veins
autumn bleeds onto street and tracks
it leaves like snow coating the world in
comfortable chills run up my spine
My heart is cold and full of goodbyes
tear stained aeroplanes
Can I remember it all?