Australia to Amsterdam and everything in between…

It’s been a month since I first arrived in Amsterdam and a month before that I had just left the outback. The last time I updated this blog, back in March, I’d only just arrived back at the farm where I did my 88 days last year. Originally I only planned to work there for a couple of months, and then set off and see the rest of Australia, but in the end I stayed there for four and a half months, more than double what I’d intended.

The night I arrived back on the farm I submitted my application for a Masters in Museum Studies at the University of Amsterdam, and the farm was the perfect place to work and save. I worked six days a week, with one weekend off a month, and was an hour and a half away from the nearest town, there was no way for me not to save money. Even if I didn’t get onto the programme I would have saved enough to fund my travels for a few months, so either way it would have been a win-win situation. At one point I thought I hadn’t got in, as the two month processing time came and went with no word from Amsterdam, a quick chase up with Admissions led to being interviewed via Skype the following week, I was the last candidate to be interviewed and very luckily got in.

(Surround yourself with people who look at you like these cows looked at me when I delivered their food by wheelbarrow).

It’s funny to look back on what led me to venture to the outback in the first place, way back in January 2017. I had tried and failed to find farm work to earn my second year visa and my plan to have no plan was blowing up in my face, and so with a little help from Psychotraveller’s videos I decided to take a chance on finding working in an outback hotel. One hotel in particular grabbed my attention with this little detail…

“If history is your thing…” the ad read “there’s a Dinosaur museum”. Dinosaurs? In Australia? From that moment on my curiosity got the better of me and with that I booked my bus ticket and prepared for the 22 hour journey from Brisbane to Winton in outback Queensland. It seems crazy that it was my love for history that led me to the middle of nowhere. The town had a population of less than 1,000 people, and the hotel I’d be working for was where ‘Waltzing Matilda’ the “unofficial” national anthem of Australia was first performed, and Qantas airlines was also founded there. I mean with that much history how could I not have gone? It was a risk, but it ultimately paid off, and all thanks to a museum. During the 17 months I spent in Australia, over half of it was spent in the outback, it was the most incredible and challenging time of my life.

(Counting cows).

Life in the outback is pretty simple but tough, on the farm I lived with the same 8 people for four and half months, and at times things got more than a little tense. Last year I joined during the mustering season, one of the busiest times of the year, and this time I returned partly because I enjoyed the challenging work environment. It wasn’t unusual to have a helicopter arrive at the farm to help bring in the cattle three times a week, and with the farm being set in vast barren plains, the quiet is broken only by the arrival and departure of vehicles, which after a while you learn to determine which direction they’re coming from. The work is repetitive, with a strict routine to be followed daily, only broken up by the occasional weekend away to a rodeo or trade show. I never thought I’d be one to enjoy a rodeo, but there’s a lot of history connected to camp-drafting and bull-riding, and once you’ve lived on a cattle station for a while, ‘chasing cows’ as my step-dad called it, you get accustomed to everything that comes with the outback lifestyle.

(Mustering cattle and walking them away).

Returning to ‘civilisation’ from the outback incurs an interesting phenomenon called ‘reverse culture-shock’, where despite having spent four and a half months fantasising about going to Melbourne and getting a take-away coffee. Once you actually get back to the city, you find the abundance of convenience goods and dodging around people on busy streets overwhelming. Hours that were once filled with a litany of jobs that had to be done every day: feeding the animals, cooking four meals a day for 8 people, watering the grass (yes really), are lost to mindlessly scrolling through social media. It takes time to adjust to having everything back to normal, even the second time around the freedom to do whatever I wanted threw me, and at times I found myself wondering what it was that I had missed so much.

It’s even more jarring when you come home from Australia and show your friends’ photos of what you’ve been up to. I was showing my friends videos of my goats Kelso and Kermit, and in one of them I’m wearing a bright blue work-shirt and a cowboy hat. Living and working in the outback you pick up on the culture and the …. uh… fashion, and I got WAY TOO into it. I am the proud owner of two Akubra hats, one for each of my stints on the farm. I felt every bit an honorary Queenslander wearing them. At home I like to wear hoodies and jeans. The hats, though they mean something to me, seem like novelty items to those who haven’t been told about the time I was a jillaroo. Being home with my friends in Essex and looking back on my life in the outback reminded me of the crazy transition I’d gone through over the course of a month, from farm life to backpacker to normality.

IMG_7748(Guiding Riley the horse).

It wasn’t long after I got home that I was preparing to move to Amsterdam. Moving to a new city has been the ultimate lesson in how to take life one day at a time, something I have struggled with for a long time, even as a backpacker. The difference between travelling and living somewhere is that you have time to adjust and settle and get more than a superficial “I’ve been there” experience. So for the first couple of weeks I set myself really mundane but necessary tasks like buying kettle and a bike, it’s been a relief to give myself time to settle in as opposed to rushing around and trying to do everything, and besides I had to get the hang of cycling around the city!

(Mijn fiets)

Prior to Amsterdam I didn’t cycle much, in fact the last time I rode a bike I was in Agnes Water with my friend Kim, we rented bikes from the hostel we were staying at and the chain kept falling off my bike. The time before that I decided to take a bicycle tour in Hobart, where I cycled down Mount Wellington on a mountain-bike, I even did an off-road section, which was a pretty big feat for me, because I couldn’t remember the last time I’d ridden a bike before that. I was pretty late learning to ride a bike as a child, because my Grandad’s way to teach me was to put me on a bike at the top of the hill and let go, I didn’t apply the brakes and crashed into the flowerbed. I also crashed a quad-bike at the farm by pressing the accelerator instead of the brake… so I wouldn’t say I’m a natural.

Initially I was pretty reluctant about cycling, but it’s kind of unavoidable here, and I don’t have the money to use public transport all the time. So I went and bought myself a bike with pedal brakes, very Dutch, not handbrakes like I’m used to. Getting the bike home was a test in itself, but once I figured out the way and got on the bike path, I loved gliding along in the afternoon sunshine.

What I didn’t expect when I bought my bike was immediately being intensely scared of it getting stolen, which happens so frequently in Amsterdam that it’s almost a rite of passage. Thankfully that hasn’t happened yet, but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t been a bumpy ride…

My first trip into the city saw me fall of my bike twice, first from not slowing my bike down enough before coming to a stop at the bike crossing in front of the Rijksmuseum, I used the tips of my feet to try and slow the bike down but there was a still too much momentum and I fell over, prompting a woman who pulled up beside me to say, ‘you have to use your feet to brake!’ Then as I cycled towards the Bloemenmarkt, I turned left and encountered a pedestrian crossing, being unfamiliar with who has right of way… or rather expecting pedestrians to just get out of the way. I found myself advancing towards a woman crossing the road with a suitcase, and ended up colliding with her suitcase… falling off my bike and looking like a complete idiot.

After each of these incidents I simply got back on my bike and continued, reassuring myself that confidence would build with time and obviously to stop before I crash into someone or something. Since then I’ve got better at cycling around the city, I can’t imagine going somewhere without my bike and I enjoy the fact that cycling everywhere now means I’m getting frequent if not daily exercise. I’m not sure I’ll ever be at the level Dutch cyclists though, but I’m fine with that, so far I’ve seen Dutch cyclists: listening to music, using their phone with both hands, riding with their arms crossed, riding with their hands in their pockets, holding hands with another cyclist, and air drumming, all whilst navigating the world on two wheels.

(Pretty little “front garden”).

It’s fair to say that the transition from the outback to the Netherlands has been an interesting one. In fact the first thing I noticed was how lush the grass is around Amsterdam. Vondelpark, which I cycle around daily, is covered in the most lush green grass I’ve seen in ages, when I came home to the UK I expected to see the green green grass of home as I flew over Essex, instead what I saw was golden fields and returned home to be told there hadn’t been rain in 42 days! It was as if I had never left the outback. Living in Amsterdam I love how nature is incorporated into the city, the parks are full of soft green grass, and there are flowerboxes by the canals and so many flower markets, and as I cycle through Vondelpark in the evening I love watching as people hang out and have their exercise classes in such beautiful surroundings, the Dutch make the most of what they have. Despite all the greenery that’s not to say that I haven’t noticed the stark transition of moving from a small town to living in a city, despite not living in the centre, I am still surprised at the noise of planes, trains, trams, cars and vespas that frequently pierce the quiet and it makes me feel like the country mouse who went to visit the town mouse.

(Also Dutch street food is the bomb, this is Kibbeling, little battered cod bites, yummy!)

That said I am very much enjoying living in Amsterdam, I have a place of my own which is something I wanted when I got tired of hostel life in Australia. It’s nice to have a base and now that I’ve settled in and started my course, I’m glad I made the decision to come here. The other night I went to the Vincent van Gogh Museum with my classmates after a particularly strenuous lecture, and we wandered around the Van Gogh Dreams section, an immersive exhibition which attempts to give visitors an insight into Van Gogh’s psyche. Walking around we couldn’t help but critique the exhibition and it was such a lovely moment to realise that I’m surrounded by people who love museums, and take them very seriously, just like me.


Thanks for reading!

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