Australia is big. That’s stating the obvious, right, but it’s all very well to know that in an abstract, classroom kind of way; it’s quite a different thing to experience it. Australia is big.

The advantages of living in the EU

When we lived in the UK, John and I would get in the car, head down to the south coast and catch a ferry over to France at every opportunity. At that time, the UK had just started the free trade agreement with Europe so there were no import duties on things that you bought in Europe and brought back to the UK. Which meant that alcohol was really, really cheap. We paid huge taxes on alcohol in the UK and all of a sudden, we could stick the car on the ferry, fill it up with alcohol from a hypermarche in one of the French ports. We'd load up the car with booze for about half the cost of buying it locally, even when you included the cost of getting to France and back. Groups of friends (our friends, I have to admit but I’m assuming other people did it!) clubbed together and a couple of them would set off to pastures cheaper and bring back the cut price manna from heaven.

Friends in France

John lived in France for a year while he was at Uni, so every few months, we’d drive over to France, Michelin guide in hand. We'd stay with friends where we could, but otherwise we'd bed down at the restaurant with the highest rating in the Michelin guide. In short, we ate and drank our way around the country. One evening, John’s friend, Fouad, commented that, in his opinion, the English had a drinking problem. John and I opened another bottle of wine and mulled the comment over but really couldn’t understand what he was saying. Wine was really nice, why wouldn’t you drink it? How could you just have one glass of something when it tasted really great? What was that about? And honestly, you had to have a few beers before you started on the wine, that was just the way things were supposed to go. We thought about Fouad’s comment a lot over the next few days as we wandered round Clermont Ferrand, looking at the beautiful architecture. The only downside of Clermont was that it contained the saddest animal we’d ever seen: a 2 metre long seal, kept in a pool so small, he could almost touch each end of it. It was heartbreaking. After mulling over Fouad's comments, we decided to leave him a gift to say thank you for letting us stay at his place.

A modern pyramid

Fouad lived in the halls of residence at the local Uni (he was studying architecture). On on our final morning, we constructed a beautiful pyramid on his window sill… A pyramid made from empty beer cans, surrounded by the hanging garden of empty wine bottles from our stay in Clermont. We thought it was really funny as we did (we were possibly still slightly inebriated from the night before), but I looked up at the window as we left and wondered whether Fouad might not actually have a point!

Pub lunches

On a Sunday morning, John & I would get out the map, one of us held the map while the other one said a random page number and co-ordinates, and we’d head off to whatever town or village was at that point for lunch. Because there was always a village and there were always several pubs serving great lunches. Things are different in Australia. If you pick a page on the map, it’s highly likely that no-one lives there. And besides which, it could be a three day drive away. Australia is big. And the pubs aren’t that nice. They’re better now than they were when we got here… as long as you’re in a big city. In the UK, a country pub meant a nice, cosy lounge, roaring fire and great food. Over here in Australia, a country pub means a tin shed, bar stools filled with grubby guys in khaki shorts and shirts, a bag of crisps and hosing down the walls after closing time (to clean off the vomit). If you think the bar scene in Crocodile Dundee was a caricature of an Australian bar, you’re wrong: that’s exactly what a country pub in Australia is like. It was a bit of a culture shock.

Australia is big

In Europe, if you drive for a few hours (or less) you’re in a completely different culture, with a different language, different food, different architecture. If you drive in Australia, the landscape might be different but there will be no new culture, no new language (the Indigenous languages aren’t commonly spoken or known – sad) and definitely no architecture. Of any kind. A 7-hour drive through Europe will see you going through dozens of towns & villages, past castles & chateaux, through well-tended countryside from one country to another. In Australia, a 7-hour drive gets you from Perth to Kalgoorlie. If you look on the map, it seems that you go through a lot of towns until you get to Southern Cross, when the towns kind of peter out and become few and far between. Let me say this as someone who hails from Europe: They. Are. Not. Towns. Somewhere with a population of 143 or 87 or even 12, does not count as a town. It doesn’t even count as a village. It’s possibly a hamlet. Maybe a family. It wouldn’t make an appearance on the map in Europe. And let’s not talk about the pubs. You definitely wouldn’t go there for Sunday lunch, even if you did want to drive for 4 hours each way.Australia is big.It’s one of its charms. It’s what makes it so unique and interesting. It’d be great if it had better pubs, mind. K xxx PS The photo was taken in Armidale, New South Wales, heading out to our property as a storm was coming in.

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