I started my lockdown journey full of optimism that I would start baking and waft around the house in linen. In reality, I’m dreadful at baking and after a failed attempt at a loaf of bread (I blame the yeast that was four years out of date) and a pineapple upside down cake that couldn’t even be disguised drowned in custard (I blame the recipe!) my enthusiasm started to wain. But this week, inspired by our Australia Wattasp group, I made Anzac biscuits. My first edible baked offering. I would be so boastful as to say, they were actually delicious.
Anzac Day is probably one of Australia’s most important national occasions. Celebrated on 25th April, it marks the anniversary of the first campaign that led to major casualties for Australia and New Zealand forces during World War One and commemorates all conflicts that followed. It has been claimed that these biscuits were sent by wives and women’s groups to ANZAC’s serving abroad. I'm home schooling after all.
It’s hard to believe that just three months ago, my sister and I were in Australia to celebrate my imminent 50th Birthday. She hadn’t quite planned it that way. A weekend away in the Cotswolds was probably more what she had in mind, but after Jana and Chrissy posted a photo of their smiling faces on Facebook, the plans escalated to a ticket to Australia! The most amazing and generous gift I have ever received.
Our first adventure started in 1989 when we’d both booked round the world tickets. My sister went first with her boyfriend and I followed later. I could write a book on that trip, but after our year away, based mainly in Melbourne, I returned to live there. I got residency, but pretty much as soon as it landed on the door mat, I got homesick and returned to the UK. Melbourne has always had a very special place in my heart.
So at 5.30am on a cold January morning, we travelled to Heathrow, checked in our oversized suitcases and were soon settled in our economy seats and excited about the 24 hour journey. Really we were! We had a lot to get through. The films, two books, four magazines, podcasts, face masks. Yes, I took face masks! I cried through ‘A Star is Born’, we had dinner and a few little wines. Three films later we were landing in Abu Dhabi.
You’re never quite relaxed during transfers are you? Always fearful you’ll miss the plane and your belongings will be flying off without you. So after Lara did some Pilates on the terminal floor and I pretended she wasn’t with me, we made our way to the gate that announced Melbourne! My stomach flipped when I saw the sign.
This flight was double the time, but I had films to watch. I did manage to get some sleep after more food and more little wines. 12 hours later we were landing in Melbourne. My books unread, my magazines still in their cellophane, although I did mange to listen to a Ruth Jones Desert Island Disc Podcast.
How was I in Melbourne? I was so apprehensive about the trip for many reasons, but as we headed into the terminal, we were greeted by smiles and tears. We had a lot to catch up on.
We drove down the freeway to Thornbury where we were staying with Nick and Jill in their beautiful home. It seemed strange driving into the street and parking outside the house I had only seen pictures of.
We stayed up chatting over a few beers, but we were by now ready to sleep horizontally.
I was up early. Very early, but had to wait until it got light to head out. I put on my gym gear and headed down the road to Thornbury High Street. Turning left, I was surprised to see a lovely Coffee Bar 'Haytch' open. It was still 6.30am. I ordered a large Flat White to takeaway and felt impelled to tell Harry that this was my first coffee in Australia, I’d just arrived from England and I used to live here. Harry pretended he was interested and I went on my way.
It was already quite warm as I marched down the street and into Northcote. This was my old neighbourhood, I named our house after it! As I arrived into Westgarth, everything looked more familiar. My last house in Australia was 14 Charles Street. It was beautiful with a wide hallway, open plan lounge and diner, galley kitchen and a bathroom that had an outdoor space in the middle of it. The master bedroom had a vaulted ceiling. Standing outside, I could see myself walking through the door in my black vintage leather coat.
I carried on, past the old Valhalla Cinema, now the Westgarth Theatre and on to Clifton Hill. I lived in Clifton Hill when we first arrived and a few years later in a condominium. Don’t you love that word, condominium? By this time it was getting really hot (over 40 degrees predicted that day) and I was feeling a bit strange after no food and not much sleep, so headed back and into ‘Barry’s’ for breakfast. I ordered another Flat White and an Activated Charcoal Porridge with caramelised walnuts and poached pears, only in Melbourne!
I refrained from telling this waiter that I’d just arrived from England and used to live here. Activated Charcoal is actually quite delicious. Who knew? After breakfast I walked home, wishing perhaps I hadn’t walked quite so far as I received a round of applause from my Fitbit having smashed 10,000 steps! It wasn’t even 8am!
I got home and had a shower and we set off to Roseneath Street where my sister and I first lived with Jana and other friends when we arrived in Melbourne.
What was once almost a squat, was now a stunning home. Beautiful white lace balustrades and a beautiful tiled entrance, 68 Roseneath Street was now worth millions!
We drove by the 'Homestead', one of our locals that was now apartments, past the condominium and down Brunswick Street. The day I arrived in Melbourne in 89, we went to the Punters Club in Brunswick Street to meet Jana who worked there. I remember exactly what I was wearing. Cut off black denim shorts with black opaque tights underneath and Dr. Martin style shoes. I was also wearing a black flat hat (which is strange as I never wear hats!) The next day my photo was in one of the local papers - “regular lady at The Punters Club”!!
1989 (it hasn't changed a bit!)
I loved Brunswick Street. The bars, the shops, the cafes! I used to take a tram down it every day to my Secretarial job in the City, secretly wishing I owned one of those shops.
By now, it had reached its predicted temperature. 43 degrees was a little hot for wandering around shops, so we went to the rooftop bar of 'Naked for Satan' for a cold drink. After a drive through the City and a trip to St.Kilda for lunch, air conditioning was calling! That night we had a fabulous BBQ and good catch up with old friends. Needless to say, a fair amount of alcohol was consumed and I spent my first full day in Melbourne with a hangover.
More to come!