I would like to go ahead and openly admit that I am not a good backpacker. I am really not even a backpacker in the traditional or stereotypical manner. At all. Literally, fine, sure, I do have a large bag that I pack my belongings into and I do wear it on my back when I occasionally move. However, that is the extent of the title’s relevance to me. What really solidified my non-backpacker status was my accommodation in Glendalough, a short term three month lease that even required a bond. I am naturally, casually working my way into the culture and society. I am fitting in with my surroundings and the general populous. I am one of them. “Do Australians hold a pen like this,” I thought as I signed my housing contract. My mindset and actions are really of a resident with an over aware, mindfulness of their temporary status…’Backpacker’ just ain’t the right description for myself. It doesn’t accurately label or capture my essence nor my growing collection of currently eight pairs of shoes. Someone titled me a ‘flashpacker,’ which isn’t too far from the truth since I am traveling with an excessive amount of costume jewelry and duplicates of apparel items (I have two identical denim pearl snap long sleeve shirts).
My living situation in Glendalough made me nervous at first because it combined aspects from two of my past housing experiences. Firstly it reminded me of my freshman year of Uni where I got assigned to live with three strangers that only common denominator was our new address. One day after coming back from a sleeping over at my boyfriend’s place I found my bed littered with orange Cheeto powder and physically occupied by a alcohol-based sweaty stranger. Also not getting to comb Perth by foot to make a calculated selection on the neighbourhood was a reminder to my initial quick pick home in Houston. A friend and I had no knowledge of Houston and its boroughs and ended settling on a complex that simply had a space available for immediate move-in; plus it was far away from the traffic intersection where we had just witnessed a man being hit and thrown into the air by a car when crossing the walkway (horrible, scarring first impression of the city). We had a crazy cat neighbour that left gifts of wine and nuts on our doorstep, my car got broken into, and we couldn’t be outside at night. The expiration on that original Houston six month lease didn’t come soon enough. Well and now six years later I had found myself in a neighbourhood I had not vetted and a shared living situation with three new strangers. I hoped it would be better than my previous experiences or at least no revolting bed pirating this time around (minimal expectations).
The premature deja vu and house worrying disappeared upon entering the apartment – I was greeted with Irish hospitality, laughs and cuppas. Orla and Andre, an Irish couple, made up half of my flatmates and we hit it off pretty instantly by drinking and chatting. A majority of the time what we drank was alcoholic making our chats mostly drunk banter. Andre is a history enthusiast and usually our discussions of the topic occurred when we both had passed the tipsy mark. Surely he was as drunk as me…or if I can’t actually keep pace with an adult Irish man I hope he at least can’t directly quote me from those conversations. Politics and history I can lightly cover sober, but while drunk, well I am sure facts were skewed and jumbled on my drunken end. I would have rather talked about bluegrass, country landscapes, beer, BBQ, folk music, and literature; that is my America that I feel comfortable, soberly, openly discussing. On the flip side I was happy to learn directly about Ireland and enjoyed the full blown course in UK conflicts on Easter Monday. Then the last offical member of the apartment was Eloise, whose school and work schedule kept her occupied and focused on gaining PR status (permanent residency). Eloise’s fellow English mate/unofficial boyfriend ended up moving in a few weeks after I did. We all had a decent time together – freaking out over the spotting of the unwanted addition to the household (the backyard rat), my forced My Kitchen Rules viewing parties (an Australian reality series I obsessed over and to my amazement previewed four new episodes a week), and the many moments we spent pretending Eloise and Lawrence weren’t in a fight. I missed the two flatmate outings because DJ and UFC focused events didn’t interest me enough to reserve space in my schedule or budget. Yet from what they could remember to tell me I don’t think I missed any real bonding moments because they couldn’t recall the memories they made…So we went on as five emigrants, all with different habits, interests, and life experiences to make a home in the muddled suburb of Glendalough.
The neighbourhood of Glendalough turned out to be a pretty subdued suburb. I was happy to be two train stops northwest of Perth’s CBD and only one from Leederville. Leedy is a small borough with a busy main strip filled with restaurants, bars, pubs, and late night trading hour merchant shops all accented in street art. On my days off from work I was at Greens & Co[ck] multitasking a pot of tea and one of the following: a book, emails/letters to and from the States, editing photos, blog post, or more likely falling down youtube rabbit holes. I got into a routine and even back into running. Lake Monger was a block away and provided a great 2.5km track with views of strangely native birds. Cockatoos, parrots, and black swans flew around commonly like pigeons. I even got comfortable enough in my new home to start dating. I was surrounded by two traveling couples at home and being a single, solo, and alone traveller lost its appeal temporarily. At the time I started to feel the need to share moments with a someone. Now big surprise, dating with an expiration date didn’t work out. I attracted what I was, interim arrangements. Dating did help me explore Perth (I columbused and became a regular at a few locations I was taken) and in one case I experienced a real Australian tradition. A date took me out on ANZAC Day for the sunset ceremony in Kings Park. ANZAC ceremonies are two long audience and occasionally host silent hours of respecting the fallen and fighting soldiers. It was a challenge in itself to be date ready when he picked me up, but then it proved far more difficult to be delightful and connect (when prohibited by the ceremony) at 5:00am. My brain doesn’t even want to talk to itself that early in the morning. Probably one of the least provocative dates I have ever been on.
My time in Perth continued on and I remained single and enjoyed my solo memories. One random day off from work I took the ferry over to Rottnest Island. On Rotto the real means of transportation is bicycles. As most of my friends know, I do not have the best background or experience with this apparatus. I would have impressed so many friends back in the States! I cycled all over that island with no tumbles and had the thigh rub and have the lack of road rash to prove it. Although I wouldn’t claim it as a personal skill yet, there is still room for improvement. Back on the mainland, I also made trips down the rail line to Freo and took the Prison tour a few times. Then Esperance was a tentative adventure with Eloise and Lawerence. They canceled due to limited funds and that is how my trip to Exmouth was birthed. I came home and shared my experiences and photos with my Glendalough household, which thus inspired the newly financially stable Eloise and Lawerance’s couple retreat up the west coast to Monkey Mia. Laslty State side I have attended concerts alone and I was about to do the same for the Passenger’s Freo concert until I found out an acquaintance and her friend would be there. They chose to skip the opening acts of Luke Thompson and All Our Exes Live in Texas, which I did not miss and not without a drink or three. They arrived at the height of my intoxication for the night yet I was the acceptable presence at the concert. I was talking the lyrics while the two girls I was with chatted like they were at brunch. I was drunk and fully aware of the surrounding audience members death glares. When Passenger belted out his infamous line “I hate ignorant folks, who pay money to see gigs and talk through every fucking song,” everyone around us directly yelled it at them. Post show we wandered into a bar where the Irish girl found fellow countrymen for us to drink with. A guy grabbed me to dance and my pint glass slipped out of my hand shattering across the dance floor. I awkward moon walked out of the situation and left him with the clean up and explaining.
So really my job at Quiksilver turned to be such a bigger blessing than expected. It was essential to have a reliable work schedule.
Everyone needs a pay check to cover the basics (food, rent, and transportation costs). But Quiksilver was also great for me by way of friendships, time spent, and overall mental state. The Claremont store was my home base and where I intertwined my life with Perth. The store manger, Katie (herself an expat hailing from Oregon) welcomed me and included me in the store’s and her social agenda instantly thankfully. While we were finishing up my orientation she invited me to join the staff for drinks in honour of a coworker leaving (I was essentially filling his position while he studied abroad in Denmark for six months). Initially I was confused about this “happy hour”s location, Hotel Claremont. The building on the inside did not appear like a hotel at all. The bottom floor has two full bars and full of tables and upstairs looking similar with the addition of a dance floor. So hotels are bars in Australia. I found Katie’s familiar face, grabbed a stool next to her, and then was introduced to the assorted characters of Western Australia’s Quiksilver crew. I met the manager of the CBD store, Mike (the regional manager of WA), Scott (Katie’s partner), Craig (second in charge at the Claremont store), and the guy wearing the shoes I was going to have to fill. Hotel Claremont’s deal for Claremont Quarter Shopping Centre workers is two pints and an appetizer for fifteen dollars out weighed the required decorum for the evening with upper management. Inhabitants of Perth claim that its high cost of living is due to it being the most isolated city in the world…alcohol costs compare to the cocktails I was buying at rooftop bars in Los Angeles (yet minimum wage is triple down under). Conclusion is that I would be found at the Hotel Claremont pretty much every Friday forward to take advantage of this deal. I don’t remember much of the night, but I tagged along til the very end because this deal was a gift from the gods. I took the rail train with Mike, a total of ninety minutes of drunk conversation covering Quiksilver America. He claimed to have maybe knowledge of hearing about my old divisional manager in Texas while I just tried not to make a fool of myself. And that was my first outing with the crew. I had my shift in a few days and Katie then invited me to her birthday celebration that week at a Fringe World show called ‘Briefs,’ an all male burlesque troupe presentation.
At Katie’s birthday celebration I was introduced to a table that was half named Emily or had a combination with the name. Craig had told me his girlfriend, Emily, would be there and I would easily get along with her. I was thinking I should have gotten a description from Craig when luckily I crossed paths with Mark, the brother of Craig’s Emily. The group moved from dinner to the Pleasure Garden fair grounds. Fringe World is a month long festival stretching all over Perth and it’s surrounding suburbs. The program was the size of a Vogue September edition. I was grateful to be invited and also experiencing an actual Fringe event because the festival was too daunting to take on with my indecisive mind. We all crammed into a booth left of the main stage within the De Parel Spiegeltent or De Parel Van Vuren or Pearl of Fire or fucking fantastic tent that I imagine my childhood blanket forts to look like. I ended the night post show at the private staff and act bar. I made good conversation and snagged a phone number – it was Em’s and we were going to coordinate a surf dates.
I remember the first time I trekked to Em and Mark’s place on Margaret Street. As I reached the top of the second hill on Grant Street, I was staring straight across the Indian Ocean. I was stupefied. If I wasn’t so dehydrated from Perth’s summer heat I could have teared up at the view. I would repeat the journey from Glendalough to Cottesloe a few more times and my reaction only heightened especially when Em and Mark later offered me the room of their unwanted Brazilian flatmates. Margaret Street was such a little piece of paradise. This wood floored home (Not Really a Fun Fact: I hate carpet) was a block away from the beach and inhabited by the friendly siblings of Mark and Em. And Em won me over easily via my stomach. She spoiled me rotten with her cooking, as any chef can do to their friends. I would come over every other week and a group of us would feast and surf the next morning. That was the time of Em and I’s summer surf ritual: binge dinner, surf movie, 6:00am wake up call, free surf, eat brekkie, surf lesson, second brekkie, and nap time. The first round of surfing took place usually at South Trigg with Craig and Mike and sometimes other guests, like Rob (another Quiksilver employee), would make appearances. My store had a community board that was damaged in transit and was fixed up for play not show. I ended up getting my hands on it to participate in the free surfs (meaning I practiced paddling and drinking up the entire ocean when I attempted to stand up on white washed waves). This 6’8” Roxy board was already capsized when it hit the water with my un-even, -skilled, -balanced self on top of it. During the lessons I was on a 8’ foamie and that’s when I eventually and victoriously stood up. I rode that little white wash wave all the way to the beach and walked off the board onto the sand in a valiant manner. Also now being a “surfer” I needed gear; in my nonbackpacker fashion I bought a spring and steamer wetsuits. It turned out to be a decent investment after the first morning out. At breakfast (round one) Em’s arms were covered in red thin lines. My spring suit was long sleeved so luckily my arms were spared from the jellies.
I was well acquainted with my Australia Quikie core and extended family (I picked up shifts at any of the three other Quiksilver stores in the Perth area) by the time two corporate visual merchandiser visited. Quiksilver corporate visits in Texas were not always the most professional. It was always a way for everyone to blow off steam and more importantly for the “white collar” to bond with the “working class.” The outings in Texas always revolved around a large consumption of alcohol (limiting my participation since I was under age of the legal drinking age in the States). Usually the nights ended somehow in nudity (making me glad to have not to have fully participated). Now one of the corporate outings I got to log was down under, and we all gathered at the Aviary and drank until the numbers dwindled. The smaller group made its way to Ezra Pound, an alley way bar. There we drank tall boys of Pabst in brown bags outside. Perth’s current bar scene is going through a real fascination with 1920’s America and fashioning bars after speakeasies, which makes it really difficult to bar hop when you can’t find the bar or the password to be granted entrance. In an attempt to find another bar I was left with two others. Paul, a English traveler (who described my sense of humour and self to be aggressive) and Jake. Sarah, had separated from the group to continue the night, but after not finding a bar quickly enough she disappeared from the three of us. Paul drunkenly concerned continued to scream her name. Th next morning my suspicions were confirmed that Sarah had ran off and grabbed a taxi. Eventually Paul decided to head back home to his shared hostel room after I calmed him down about Sarah’s disappearing act. Jake knew of a place still open and serving, the Penthouse Club. There was a $50 minimum for credit, which meant four margaritas on the rocks and the remaining balance in Penthouse dollars. I guess since Australia doesn’t have bills smaller than five, and stripping for coins doesn’t seem justified or practical they print off clubhouse, monopoly money. I sipped margaritas until closing. I still have those Penthouse bucks, what a unique souvenir.
These first three months passed by quickly. Every experience in life is technically novel, but being in another country and submersed in a different culture (even one comparative to the States) called for and kept my full attention. Now with the last three months of my time in Perth having Cottesloe as my stomping ground and being a flatmate to two of my very own handmade friends well things are looking better than a cold Shiner after a days work outside in Houston heat.