Astrid Kitchen – Social Anthropology – University of Melbourne – Australia
I was apprehensive about returning to Melbourne for second semester after being so rudely abandoned by my family. This is actually not really a matter of jest; it was truly one of the most traumatic experiences of all my young years. The shock of leaving home was muffled by the adrenaline of starting afresh in a new land and having no clue what waited for me on the other side of the plane. Getting used to this new life and being reunited with my family who got an insight into it, before then upping and leaving again was something quite different.
On top of nursing solitude wounds, I was juggling trying to simultaneously vibe the hippy dippy travelling life. In January, I met my friend/melby housemate in Vietnam for two weeks. We parted ways and I went on to Hong Kong to see another friend who was on exchange there, before throwing myself into a month’s solo travelling in the Philippines of all places, which was in the throes of a nationalist genocide. Not a dull moment! My taxi driver in Manila actually couldn’t stop chuckling over the likelihood that ‘rich white girl was going to get kidnapped’ but he was just stirring the pot, all went well! On the contrary, if you’re willing to put in a bit more effort than other backpacker destinations it is actually the most wonderful travelling experience but one that is only diminishing as tourism increases, so get out there before it’s too late! Top tips: El Nido (on Palawan), Siquijour island (off Bohol) and the rice terraces up north-particularly Sagada.
Summer had been busy and it felt like I’d drawn a line under Melbourne. After term ended it was the end of the road for so many of our semester abroad friends and then Christmas was upon us in no time. Doing the whole slog again felt a bit absurd BUT how foolish I was. End of Feb temperatures stabilised around a late 20/early 30 degree Celsius and life was a beach!
The last week of our break in February was taken up largely by housewarming events as people settled into their fresh new places, all of which made my former Egerton rd abode look like a hole in a shed. One particular group found a place on Drummond St which was swiftly nicknamed ‘Palace’ for self-explanatory reasons. Balconies, floor to ceiling windows, projectors, ensuite bathrooms etc.
The social frenzy which I thought was tied to the excitement of seeing everyone again actually never really ceased. Because it was hot and we Brits maybe particularly equate heat with an absence of responsibility, as long as the sun stayed, so did the holiday mind-set. Everyday people were keen for bbq’s or picnics or rooftop bars or beer gardens or the beach or lido’s. As classes started again, even the return of a sense of purpose did little to overhaul our embarrassingly bougie lifestyle and uni merely preoccupied a couple hours in and amongst an otherwise long list of social arrangements. After the initial shock of sacrificing the European summer sun for a 9 degree dreary existence in August, the beginning of the new year tasted of sweet revenge (sorry not sorry). My dreams had come true and life at last resembled the glossy brochure from the Go Abroad meetings in Manchester from so many moons ago.
One Friday I wandered out of my weekly workshop class, into the afternoon sun on my way to what is colloquially known as ‘the tiki bar’ (they have their own location on google maps!) which is called home by the leaders of the surf society. They request you pay $30 to be a member and reap the benefits of their party reputation, however, being bare foot, long haired and eternally on a skateboard also tends to go hand in hand with an open door policy. I arrived just as a tug-of-war was beginning with the two teams positioned on either side of a paddling pool which posed as the threatening fate for the losing team. The day party rolled into a night party interspersed with the obligatory bbq and ‘punch’ (essentially goon + cordial). There’s no denying these guys are fun and deserve their reputation, even if it silly pretentious.
Another afternoon class in March, this time falling on a Wednesday, was followed by a quick train ride to the Grampians where we were due to volunteer at a festival. It was the debut year of Pitch whose headlines as usual were exclusively techno artists. The camping grounds were very expansive since the regular festival goers had not yet arrived so we chose a leafy spot under two huge eucalyptus trees, which admittedly shrunk somewhat over the next couple days as more and more people flooded the site. Our first shift was drab and long and really seemed to serve no purpose (I held a sign which definitely would have been equally as effective lent against a fence) but it meant we had the weekend free. Call me grandma, but again I was positively surprised by what electronic music can sound like. Give techno a chance!
Our last shift was far less forgiving and was on the Tuesday so we had nearly existed in this hedonistic, messy microcosm for a week and it felt like time to call it a day. But the cosmos ignored our prayers as our friends packed up to drive home and the rest of us trudged to the volunteer tent to begin our 6 hour shift. Incidentally, Claire and I lucked out and were assigned the manning of the glamping reception which unsurprisingly was not overrun with bodies from 7pm-2am. Instead, we were blessed with a sofa to sit on, champagne to sip on and a playlist so thoughtfully handcrafted by our supervisor, Owen (the purest of techno sounds but goes without saying, it was also nothing but techno). It was the most civilised I’d felt in weeks.
Returning to Melbourne that morning to attend a morning lecture, felt somewhat less civilised but the talk was run by an inspiring journalist, giddy from having just released his non-fiction piece entitled ‘they cannot take the sky’. The academic had been flown in from Sydney as a guest speaker for my creative writing module and his work drew on years and years of communication with a man incarcerated in one of the infamous Manus island detention camps. It is a deeply moving and profound read and I highly recommend! Being gripped in spite of a 6 day festival which encompassed 12 hours free labour alongside an absence of basic daily needs has got to count for something.