Guest Post: Paul Martin on 'Why Australia?'

A question I've asked myself many times, particularly when writing the book is, Why Australia? Why has it held such a fascination with me for so long? 

Or to be more precise: If I was there between 1995 and 1997 (I wrote the first draft of Travels with Bertha between 1999 and 2001) and given that I've travelled so widely, why did I persist for so long in writing a book about working and travelling in Australia while in my ‘20s?





It’s all the more peculiar considering how much I travelled between the ages of 18 and 31. In those 13 years - within which, I also managed to squeeze in five years of full times studies - I spent a total of eight years outside Ireland either living in, or visiting, 24 countries on six continents. And some places do stand out: the year I spent in Italy teaching English; South America – where I travelled through five countries over six months – was bewitching; and then there was the more than three years I lived in San Francisco during the frenzied, dotcom boom in Silicon Valley.

But it still brings me back to the question – why Australia? What was it about that time and place that was so different? Well I’ll give it a go...

It’s all about timing…. 

I left for Australia aged 25, the perfect age to do things all out of proportion, throw open the flood gates, experience new things and learn. Think of Proust: “In later life we look at things in a more practical way, in full conformity with the rest of society. But youth was the only time in which we learned anything.”
I left a dreary job and a recessionary Ireland (unemployment at 16% only two years before) to a booming Australia only a few short years before the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games. Fantastic! 
The world has now come almost full circle. The experience I had in the 1990s – poor work prospects, itchy feet, thinking there has to be something better out there – has come around again. Hearing a radio interview of a young graduate describing this experience in 2010 prompted me to take the book draft off the shelf, revise and polish it. And that’s why Travels with Bertha is only coming out now. The internet, mobile phones and social media mightn’t have been features when I was in Australia (or only just about), but the essential experience is the same. 
The landscape of Australia had a very powerful effect on me – more than almost any other place I’ve encountered. The outback heat may have been partly to blame, but I did experience two hallucinations and, later, one sweet, simple epiphany at the very end of my travels sleeping under the stars in Katherine Gorge, Northern Territories. 
Come back to me after not seeing family and friends for two and a half years and tell me that you’re not forever a changed person. I doubt I’ll believe you.

And what about Australia….?

I kept very detailed descriptions in Oz in a dozen diaries (several of which still make terrific reading – at least those that remain after my car was broken into in San Francisco). That helped make so vivid and immediate the events and my encounters with so many colourful people which I recount in  Travels with Bertha

To me, Australia is….

…startling beautiful (and I can attest to that having travelled 30,000km in every state and territory on the continent, and having experienced those travels so close to the land as I mostly slept rough in the car or in a tent)
….historically and culturally fascinating (and far more sophisticated than it gets any credit for – read TWB for more)
…..very diverse and very big. Think tropical Queensland, Tasmania chilled by Antarctic winds, the desolate Nullarbor desert, the cauldron that is the Red Centre or the pleasant, garden climate of Victoria.   
…..a place to roam and a place to dream. Genevieve Carbery, the Irish Times journalist, quoted these lines from TWB at the book launch. “Since crossing into Queensland, the limitless, impassive sky of this country had begun to affect me too. In such pristine freshness, so uncluttered by overbearing historical figures or physical vestiges of ‘civilisation’, Australia is a place where your mind can roam widely in utter freedom.” 
….full of colourful, funny and deeply humane characters (read about my encounters in Coff’s Harbour, Rockhampton and Coober Pedy if you don’t believe me)

Why am I not still there?

Minor hitch of securing a permanent visa….!
Australia is very, very far away
Despite my love for Down Under I realised I am strongly European (there is a reason why I married an Italian)

Why go to Australia? (Easy!)

Along with Canada, it’s the country for the 21st century
It’s comparatively under-populated
It is vastly rich in minerals and natural resources 
It has had one of the best standards of living in the world for the last century (and that  doesn’t look like changing anytime soon)
The people are great fun and “do-ers” (they speak English too)
Australia is beautiful (and mostly warm) and is Ireland just so wonderful at the moment that a few years out of the country would kill ya?
It’s not the things you did in life they say that you regret on your deathbed. It’s the things you didn’t do! So go while you can – and enjoy.

*** 

After graduating in English and Italian from University College Dublin, Paul Martin spent most of his twenties and early thirties living on three continents and travelling in six. Currently working in the non-profit sector and living with his young family in Wicklow, Ireland, his travelling nowadays generally takes him no further than to his wife’s home town in Italy. Unable to find a convincing account of the experiences of young people working and travelling in Australia, he decided to write the book himself. Travels with Bertha is that story.