australia, melbourne, victoria

Escape to the Grampians

May 15, 2019

Hello! This blog post will be a long one. Let’s call this the final ‘what happened to my year abroad in Australia’ post. It’s going to include everything from what happened at my job, all the preparation I did to insure that I was chill enough to simply go visit a mountain when everything went wrong and why I ended up back home. And why I love the Grampians, obviously.

Every time I write a post about Australia I feel like I have to preface it by saying how much of a beautiful country it is and how grateful I am for the experience. I went snorkelling in the Great Barrier Reef, I jumped out of a plane on Mission Beach, I hiked to the bottom of a secret waterfall trail, I went swimming in a lake made of rainwater on a sand island, I lived in a car for six weeks and drove 2,000 miles from Melbourne to Cairns, I saw wild dingos, whales, kangaroos, koalas, quokkas, emus and more. I can’t even put into words how amazing Australia could have been if things hadn’t gone so wrong.

So what exactly did go so wrong? Hahaha, well…

In my first two weeks in Melbourne, I got a house. I couldn’t move in for six weeks, though. Luckily, I had a lot of money saved up to go travelling for a bit so that’s what I did, hoping it would be easy to find a job as soon as I got back to Melbourne. It wasn’t as easy as I anticipated and another month went by until I found a job. Just in time, might I add as I couldn’t afford another month’s rent before pay day.

The job I got was as a barista at a mostly vegan cafe called Pressed Juices Ltd. It’s a chain with a couple of stores all over Melbourne. The one that I worked at was at the airport.

It was less than ideal as it was located far from my house and the only means of transportation to get there was the extortionately priced Skybus, or if I was working before 6am, even more extortionately priced Ubers. I decided to sacrifice the luxury of eating in exchange for a pricey airport employee bus pass, hoping I’d be able to live off the food that was going out of date at work. Yep, it got hard. All together, I must have paid over $600 on transportation to and from work over the space of the three weeks that I worked there and was living on $10 a week for food on my days off. I was really struggling and didn’t want to hear anything from friends and family in fear I’d get a lecture about the six weeks of fun I had, jumping out of planes and swimming in the Great Barrier Reef and all that. Besides, this was a temporary thing that would all be fixed on payday.

Hahaha, nope. Pressed Juices Ltd went under. You can google them. They’re a terrible company who have been exploiting their employees for years. I will never see that $2000 I earned. One of the worst things was that the managers knew that the company was about to go into liquidation and they let me spend all that money on transportation to and from work and the $150 Skybus employee pass that I must have used twice.

I’ve been in contact with Fairgov Australia, who unfortunately cannot help those who are on a working holiday visa like I was. I’ve talked to lawyers and solicitors who all cost a whole bunch of money that I don’t have. I talked to journalists who have been investigating Pressed Juices Ltd for a while now to try and share a snippet of my sad story. I’ve even talked to the police to make sure they know the name ‘Leo Pegoli’ – the CEO of Pressed Juices, to make sure he doesn’t keep pulling the same stunt of opening the exact same Juice shop under a different name like he has done before, exploiting his employees all over again.

I did this for about a week until I realised that this is one of those sad things in life that simply happen. There’s nothing you can do about it.

Another small bit of context is that I had been unconsciously preparing myself for a disaster like this for the past three months. On my East Coast road trip I must have read about ten self-help books in the space of a month. I went to a Tarot reader and was figuring out how to be a better person by learning how to control my emotions. You know, those somewhat erratic emotions that caused me to quit my job and move to Australia in the first place. I’ll be publishing another blog post about my favourite books that really helped me at the same time as this one goes live if you’d like to read that list.

One of the most useful tips I learnt from reading those books is to simply let be and not try and change anything. This tip, however useful, goes against my entire nature. I’m someone who tries to change injustice whenever I see it. You know, boycotting fast fashion, minimising waste, being a vegan, etc. So to just sit back and not try and control everything. What is that nonsense?  Don’t they know that I’m a VIRGO?

So what happened happened. It sucked but you have to look to the future and decide what comes next.

Now, I wasn’t exactly in the mood for making huge, life-changing decisions immediately. Well, apart from cutting my year in Australia short and coming straight back home. I made that decision pretty quickly and I don’t regret it. It was probably my only choice, to be honest. But what happened immediately after is what I want to talk about.

I decided to take myself to the Grampians. It’s a national park in Victoria that I will always have a soft spot for. When I first visited Melbourne in May, 2018, I was in a fowl mood. Travelling with depression is another blog post all together but to keep this one brief, I was struggling really bad with the worst depression I’d felt in seven years. I’d dreamed of visiting Australia, specifically Melbourne, for years and when I stepped off the plane, I felt nothing. I couldn’t even muster up a smile, but when I walked past an advertisement for the Grampians, the picture caught my eye. It was a gorgeous national park with an abundance of trees. I’d never even heard of this place, but I decided I wanted to go there. This was the first flicker of wanting anything in about a month and I knew that this urge was there for a reason. I must go to the Grampians.

I went with Amanda way back in May. The drive was three hours long and I kept complaining that I hadn’t seen a kangaroo the whole time. It was a nice trip, though and I think it was my favourite thing I did in those initial two weeks in Aus.

When I came back to Australia, my time in Melbourne was brief before I embarked on my road trip and then started job-hunting and then started working full time. It was only after I lost my job did I decide I might as well go to the Grampians again.

I hired a car. I know how to drive automatics with no problems now so it was a lot less scary. I plugged my phone into the charger and turned on my ‘road trip blues’ playlist, then drove.

I arrived at the hostel in the late afternoon and was greeted by a man with a strong Bolton accent.

“You sound familiar, where are you from?” he asked me.

“Warrington,” I replied.

“Ah yes,” he said. “I know Warrington very well.”

“We have a good Ikea,” I replied. My experience meeting other people from the North West of England had taught me that Ikea is all Warrington is good for.

“And that nice cinema,” he said. “My boyfriend broke up with me at that cinema. That’s why I came here.”

I decided against telling him my life story of how I had worked at that cinema and everything had gone terribly wrong there and it caused me to move to the other side of the world in a dramatic upheaval. And now everything had gone terribly wrong on the other side of the world and I’d be moving right back again in a much more peaceful upheaval.

“It’s a good place to be,” I said and I meant it. The Grampians, that is. Not Australia as a whole, but I think we’re all clear on that at this point.

“Best place in the world,” he agreed. “You’re just in time too. Sunset is in about an hour. That’s the perfect amount of time to get settled then hike up to the Balconies.”

I followed his instructions, dumped my bag in my new room and put the Balconies address in Google Maps. I did end up getting a bit lost on the way (typical Google Maps) and ended up on an oval with some six-foot tall kangaroos lounging in between some football goal posts. Luckily the roads were sign posted well and finding the Balconies was easy enough.

The sunset was incredible, as it always is in Aus, but it was especially peaceful being there alone and knowing that it was only because of an unfortunate string of events that lead me there. I was scheduled to work that day. I would be cleaning the coffee machine if things had worked out, but they hadn’t and this was a thousand times sweeter.

I returned to the hostel after the sun had completely set. I ended up driving approximately 3mph for five whole minutes as I followed a kangaroo who hopped along the road with my headlights acting like torches. I filmed it and giggled the whole time, remembering how much I wanted to see a wild kangaroo the first time I visited the Grampians and how Amanda and Gus told me it was really weird that I hadn’t seen one yet as they’re everywhere.

The next day I had a lie in. Seeing the sunset meant I didn’t have to see the sunrise, I decided. It’s not laziness, it’s unemployment taking it’s toll. It worked out for the best because when I left the hostel, I saw a family of emus right outside. Perfect timing.

I hiked the Mackenzie Falls trails. It’s just a short walk ideal for families. Gorgeous viewpoints with minimal effort. Afterwards I did a much more difficult hike up to the top of Mount William, one of the highest points in the Grampians. This hike was completely deserted and I realised why when I reached the top. As amazing as the views were, a shorter walk like the one to Mackenzie Falls is much more rewarding aesthetically speaking and you don’t need to stop to catch your breath as often.

I wish I had longer in the Grampians, as it truly is one of my favourite places on the planet. I think it’s a really special place, ideal for escaping your problems. There’s nothing quite like having to stop in the middle of the road, whilst you’re racing against time to see a mountain at sunset, to let a slow and spiky echidna cross.

Overall, I love the Grampians. And I am so grateful for all the negative stuff that happened in Australia. I honestly mean that and I’m not just saying that because of all the self-help books, although they’re definitely the reason I’m so chill now. And the fact that the Ariana Grande song, ‘thank u, next’ was really big at the time. That helped too.

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