I realised an amazing fact a couple of days before “Dark Horse” was published: it is almost exactly 20 years to the day since I first set foot on Australian soil. Kind of fitting, then, that my personal homage to the wonderful 18 months I spent living in Australia is now in print.

Now, while the book is nothing to do with my time there, there are certain locations in the book that played a pivotal role in the time I spent in Australia.

I started in Melbourne, staying with some friends. I was on a 1-year Working Visa, having quit my day job, sold my flat, and given away a fair chunk of my possessions to various charities. I was just past 30, and my life needed a radical change. What could be more radical than moving halfway round the world to a country I’d only ever seen on TV (and bad TV at that – Neighbours, ugh!)? Trust me, there were more than a few flutterings of panic stirring my belly in the weeks in between making the decision to go, and actually turning up at Heathrow to board my flight. There were tears, but there was also excitement at the adventure that lay ahead. Up to this point in my life I’d played things safe – and realised safe hadn’t really got me anywhere. Now, I was off to who knows where to see what life could bring me.

Although I based myself in Melbourne for the year, I travelled as much as I could. I obtained a carefree job, doing work that was way below my skill set just so I could leave at 3.30pm each day and enjoy my life. I moved into a shared house with two other lesbians, both quite a bit younger than me and who insisted on nicknaming me ‘Fossil’ because to them, 30 was like, seriously old, yeah? I’d work for a couple of months, then either take extended leave or just quit whatever job I was doing and hit the road for weeks at a time.

And I loved it! I took a 3-week trip to the south west corner, from Perth down to Margaret River and Denmark (lots of nice wine to be had down in that corner, I can tell you!). I did the entire east coast, from Sydney to Cairns, via Greyhound buses, over the span of about two weeks. I did a backpacker camping trek from Cairns up to the tip of Cape York and back again. I flew to Darwin, and did tours around Kakadu (incredible) and the Kimberley region (breathtaking). I spent a glorious few days in Broome (stunning beach – and camels!) and then flew to Adelaide, and on out to Kangaroo Island, where I strolled with penguins and seals.

I also spent a few weekends in Ballarat, a country town about 90mins drive from Melbourne. My housemates were from there originally, and still had friends back there they would meet up with for dancing at the (only?) nightclub in town. Ballarat was the only Australian town in which I ever really experienced homophobia – it was pretty redneck back in those days. And when I started plotting out “Dark Horse”, for me it was a no-brainer to set the main part of the story there, and show the new, grown-up version of Ballarat that is a significantly more tolerant place to visit these days.

Sadie’s retreat – Turimetta Beach, NSW

After that year I had to return back to the UK, but I left Australia knowing I would return. I spent many holidays there in the years afterwards, and then, 10 years ago, had the chance to go and live there again, this time for 6 months. It was interesting returning 10 years older – by then I was in a serious relationship, had a good career going doing contracting work in my specialist field, but the call of Australia was strong. I had another great 6 months, but at the end of it, I knew the dream of living there had mellowed, and the pull just wasn’t enough to keep me there. I left happy that I’d done it, and that I’d worked out that, whatever I wanted from life next, it wouldn’t be on that fantastic continent.

I returned once again in 2016, to visit my friends in Ballarat, and to research locations, culture, and issues for the book. It was, once again, a fabulous trip, and I know it won’t be my last to that amazing continent.

16 thoughts on “My life down under

  1. I would like to visit Cairns in Australia because I’ve heard about it’s close proximity to the Great Barrier Reef, diverse wildlife population and that it’s also a beautiful coastal area on the northwestern side of Australia.

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  2. I’d love a trip to Australia, with visits to Melbourne and Sydney, maybe backpacking trips, but also a trip down to Perth. Too much to see to only go for a couple weeks. I’d love an extended holiday.

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  3. I would most like to visit the areas in Australia where the show “Five Mile Creek” was filmed for Disney as a TV series for release in the USA. The storyline featured strong women set against the backdrop of hardship, unforseen crisis, fear conquered by triumph. “Dark Horse” as a cover shows a motorcycle and I live with horses, ones people passed on and they came to me, so, I learned to train them and find the crack between flight or fight and teach them to think. They have returned this gift to me. I think your book may be about this (?) and I would like to read this adventure.

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  4. Well, I live here already, so technically I don’t have to visit. But there’s still many, many places I would like to see. The Kimberley. The Gulf. I’d love to drive the Gunbarrel Highway and the lesser travelled tracks of the Simpson Desert. I’m also looking forward to reading your book. 🙂

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  5. When I was a kid I read all of Nevil Shute’s books, most of which were set in Australia. Since all that long time ago, I have had the notion to visit Alice Springs, preferably driving from Adelaide. There’s lots to explore there, hiking in the Macdonells, camping in the bush, visiting the Telegraph museum etc. one day, maybe …

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  6. This is really impressive. I enjoyed reading the blog about your adventures.. that was a fantastic story in its self. I have never given thoughts about visiting Australia do to fear of flying issues..lol..but love reading and imagining!

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  7. I’ve never been to Australia but I LOVE to read books that are set there. While reading about a place you can imagine you’re there with the characters.
    I’d love to visit anywhere is Australia bit the top of my list would be Bondi Beach I think. 😀

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  8. Australia and New Zealand both look like fabulous places to live and visit – maybe one day. Although the deadly spider etc kind of put me off, still I visit there in every book or TV show that features such awesome lands. Wales is my home and where my heart is.

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