The Land of Oz

6:41 PM

As the plane glided over the eastern coast of Australia, my eye caught sight of golden, sun-bleached cliffs, towering jaggedly over a turquoise sea. Beneath the churning waters, deeper blues highlighted cavernous depths.

Flying over Sydney Harbor as we started our descent, I craned my neck in the hope of catching a glimpse of the famous opera house. No such luck. I scrunched my face, annoyed by my silly arm injury which had exiled me to the middle row instead of a perfectly good window seat.  Even so, what little I could see took my breath away. 

                                                                    Camp Toowoomba 

When I was 16 years old I left the United States for the first time. I'll never forget the moment we flew over the shores of Ireland in the early morning hours. I've never seen a dawn like that before or since. Each of the colors of the spectrum separated creating a clear rainbow on the horizon as we skimmed over the greenest hills in creation. Below us I could just make out tiny houses and haphazard stone fences as we passed over Shannon. If I'd seen a unicorn flying over those hills beside us it wouldn't have surprised me. The place was sheer magic.

 Since then, I've gotten a bit superstitious about one's first glance at a country.
Unlike meeting  a person for the first time, that first impression can tell you all you need to know. You might say a country carries its heart on its sleeve. Looking down at Australia for the first time, it was clear, here was a land for the adventurous at heart. 

                                                                                    Brisbane Zoo

During a short layover in Sydney, I peeked out the cathedral-like windows of the terminal. Tall, spindly eucalyptus tress moved drowsily in the breeze. For a moment I imagined myself in a land of Dr. Suess' imagination. It was all so strange and new. Perhaps a Fiffer-feffer-feff or a Foona-Lagoona Baboona was perched up in those swaying branches. 

After arrving in Toowoomba, where I would live the next few months, I wandered the streets fascinated by the western architecture and trellis-like store fronts. Broad Aussie accents chirped in my ears like so many happy jackdaws. 

Although I'd been forewarned about Australian wildlife, my first run in with Aussie nature was with the infamous kookaburra of childhood fame. To my chagrin, those birds of legend became my dearest enemies within one night of arriving. By day, they masqueraded as lovable balls of fluff. By night they became the most wretched villains that ever ruined an innocent's night's sleep. Every morning at five a.m, I awoke to the sound of those half-crazed monkey birds screaming their faces off in some sort of rooster-like call to the dawn. That first jet lagged morning I awoke quite ready to burn down their old gum trees irregardless of their being, "king of the bush" or no. 

The kookaburra's evil cousin, the magpie was not much better. Native Aussies related horror stories of being swooped by the love struck birds during mating season. On our first day of lectures at DTS (Discipleship Training School) we were given a brief introduction to the dangers of Australian wild life. Huntsman spiders, brown snakes, and a goanna named "Bruce" filtered through my bewildered senses. Why did I decide to move to Australia again? 

As if to soften the blow that we might never actually return to our respective homelands, our school leaders quickly hurried us onto a bus and off to the Brisbane Zoo. One hug with a koala named Mackenzie and I was infatuated. Surely a place where wallabies and wild kangaroos roamed couldn't be all that bad! 

                                                                    Mackenzie and I 

After a few months, I learned some basic survival tips of Australia like never taking a step outside your door without being heavily lathered in sunscreen. Green ants were also a bugaboo. Daily, foreigners fell victim to these tiny predators. At first, they didn't even know they'd been bitten, until an itch on their leg became a large welt that would drive even a full grown man mad with the pain. 

One of our last nights we were given a true introduction to Australian culture. When they put the steak in front of me all I could feel was remorse. Looking up at my Aussie friend, she stared back reassuringly, "Try it. It's good! Only thing Australians like better than that is crocodile meat." With a slight nod, I cut off a bit and tasted my first bite of kangaroo. It was okay, slightly gamy perhaps, but in my mind's eye I could see the happy critters bouncing away till being shot dead by some modern version of Crocodile Dundee.  

                                                                       (Skippy Gets Even)

Those three months in Australia are a time I'll never forget. Although I didn't get to see as much of the country as I would have liked (to be fair, it is enormous), it has to be one of my favorite places in the world. The cities are a strange mix of old world and new. While Sydney itself has a distinctly European vibe, there's a rugged wildness to the whole land that makes it feel like uncharted territory. 

Like anywhere, the people make the place. Aussies are an entertaining race, to say the least. They seem to have inherited a bit of the old Irish showmanship as well as some sort of truce with nature I'll never quite understand. Slang like "Sweet as" or "Fair dinkum" (real, fair) "Out in the woop woop" (nowhere) simply adds to their charm and mystique. If you ever do get a chance to visit Oz, make sure to get to know as many of the locals as possible. They're likely to become some of your best mates for life! 

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