Australia – A Memoir

outback lo res

I have pretty much made all my plans for the twelfth trip to Australia. Some teaching, some quiet time and a few days of special time working with some of the students who have shown up so often in my classes that we just want to continue working together. I can get it all done in just a bit over a month and be back home. A few years ago I started writing down the impressions and experiences of Australia. So for the next few posts, it will be like a serial of sorts. An installment of the memorable events that have happened down under.

Australia – The Indelible Marks Left Behind

Sandy Webster

It is impossible to express, this feeling of being deeply branded by Australia. How does one put into words the depth of the marks that the country and its people have left on me. I think it started when I was a child with early National Geographic images of something so foreign looking and yet familiar. Raised in a rural environment I was drawn to those dramatic country scenes. The men and women of the Outback struggling with keeping themselves and their livestock alive in what looked like insurmountable dangers of fire, flood, and distance. Brave, strong people I thought as a child. Friendly, open and honest and busy with lives full of action. Men forever wrestling sheep and cattle and one another. Women surviving on what little they had while they waited and waited for the next demand to take its toll. What I couldn’t imagine from the pictures I saw, the writers of Australia filled in nicely. From convict colonies to contemporary urban scenarios, Australia’s writers, photographers and artists brought their country to life.

In 1997 I got the chance to go there and see for myself how real it all was. I would teach workshops for the Fibre Forum and be housed and shown the sights. It was magic. The air was clearer, the horizon further away, the sky bigger and bluer, the smells new and different, the sounds exotic and louder, the voices happy-sounding and full of strange expressions. I took it all in and took notes…. constant notes. I photographed everything…..the picture being the physical evidence of my presence in this country. I did not know then that the notes and quick scribbles and drawings would be of more importance to me than the photos… that gave too much information and missed the essence of me being there, at that moment in time. On that first visit I vividly recall my hosts taking me from Canberra to Mittigong and making sure to be in Golburn for a pre-arranged luncheon where the owner would first serenade me with the didgeridoo and then a Civil War melody on his violin because it was the closest he could get to music of where I traveled from. The thoughtfulness that went into giving me that experience as a welcome to their country was the most wonderful and memorable welcome to a country I would never get enough of.


I asked questions, so many questions that seem silly and ignorant in retrospect. But sometimes not. Like asking my first driver on a walk into the countryside of Canberra if she ever just wanted to keep walking, walking further into the outback. And if she could hear the sound of what I interpreted as the “sound of waiting”…..women waiting for their children to return, the postman to come, the rain to come, their husband to return from long distances in dangerous places. She politely replied, “No, not really.” And she warned me not to keep walking myself. “People are lost that way you know, searching for something out there.”

behind the trees

On that first visit to Australia I went to Alice Springs and Uluru…the very soul of Australia. A private pilot flew me out there and banked around Uluru and the Olgas so I could get good photos from the air at dawn.  A guide who had last minute cancellations ended up with just me to drive around and accompany on hikes through the Olgas. At the base of Uluru he dropped me off near routes that had few if any tourists and waited to take me to the next back way in. He suggested what I should order for lunch while he went off to catch a thorny lizard for me to see close up before letting it go in the desert. He brought me dark beer to drink while I sat with him and watched the sunset on Uluru, then drove me back to the airport where the pilot waited to take me back to Alice Springs.

Uluru and fence

The following day I went to a Coroboree and let the Aboriginal spokesman, George, cut my hair to add to his string while thanking me and saying that the Japanese tourists did not offer theirs. He said he and I had hair with more tooth to grab on. I breathed him deep into my lungs so as to have him and his country stay inside me for as long as possible. Later that morning I ate a witchetty grub and other bush tucker. It was at this Coroboree that I bought my first Australian Aboriginal Art.

aboriginal art

I never thought I was going to come back. I was intent on filling myself and my suitcases with Australia.