These four photos are my favorites from my time spent sailing up the eastern coast of Australia. Though what I saw of Australia is undoubtedly just a tiny fraction of the many wonders it has to offer, I still feel I was able to wave farewell to its shores with some important life lessons tucked safely away in my pocket. These photos are a reminder of what Australia taught me about myself.
Australia is big.
At close to 3 million square miles in area, it is the world’s 6th-largest country. Australian flora and fauna seem to take great advantage of the roominess afforded to them because wildlife is massive here! From giant clams sitting on the ocean floor in the Great Barrier Reef to saucer-sized spiders just waiting for you to accidentally stumble into their webs, Australia lives big. But it’s not just wildlife that flourishes here; both man and beast thrive. Maybe it’s the geographic isolation that allows this self-contained ecosystem to prosper. Or perhaps it’s the infamous Australian sun — always shining, fueling both the plant and animal life, as well as the sunscreen industry. More realistically, (though not nearly as poetic) it may be the strict bio-security laws that Australia has in place for any and all goods that enter even just its territorial waters. Regardless of why, I know that while spending time exploring her shores, Australia taught me by example to live big and allow myself to flourish and thrive.
Australia is moving forward.
Enshrined in the Australian coat of arms are depictions of the kangaroo and the emu. While both of these creatures are indigenous and unique to Australia, they also both share a more symbolically important characteristic. Neither the emu or the kangaroo possess the ability to walk (or hop) backwards. Because of this peculiar physiological quirk, the two animals were incorporated into the coat of arms as an inspirational metaphor for an Australia that marches ever onward, never looking back, if only because by it’s very nature, it simply cannot. Me being the introspective, incredibly sensitive, and emotionally available artiste that I am (read: sappy, overly-poetic, sucker for cheap metaphor) I obviously internalized this and took it very much to heart. Emus and kangaroos are prancing about (linearly, mind you) deep in the core of my soul.
All jokes aside, I do think there was a good lesson to learn from this: Australia keeps moving forward, making progress — growing and changing and adapting along the way, all for the better. Certainly valuable advice for anyone, sentimental artiste or otherwise.
The last and most important lesson Australia offered came by way of sea.
I was on the ocean floor, somewhere in the middle of the Great Barrier Reef. (An absolutely ridiculous sentence.) It was my first time scuba diving — well, second, really, if you count the first dive I attempted, where an underwater panic attack led me to consume nearly half my tank of oxygen within the first 5 minutes of the dive. I was a good 8 feet underwater. Maybe.
Anyway, it was my “second” dive. I had calmed down considerably, and my guide, who we’ll call Nick, thought I was prepared for something more challenging.
I’d like to say that I am preserving my guide’s anonymity by calling him Nick. This would undoubtedly lead you to view me as a noble, courteous, and responsible writer. However, this is not the case. The truth of the matter is that I can’t for the life of me remember his name. I am not, in fact, noble nor courteous, and certainly not responsible. Much to the contrary, I am quite rude for not paying more attention in the first place, and quite lazy for not simply inquiring with any of the friends who accompanied me on this excursion if they recalled the name of my poor, forgotten guide. Alas, Nick it is.
Anyway, it was just me and my friend Chris on the dive and so, because there were only three of us in total, Nick informed us that we’d able to explore areas that were inaccessible to large groups. Down we went, diving much deeper than we had previously. We reached about 30 feet and then swam along the sea floor, a thick forest of electric blue coral clawing up from the reef below us. After about 10 minutes, we stopped. Nick pulled out a small underwater writing pad and stylus and wrote something down. He turned around the pad to reveal a message: Cave?
Chris and I took a moment to consider, and then gave the “okay” sign, touching our index finger to our thumb — the universal scuba diving signal for everything from “no, I am not currently drowning” to “yes, I would like for you to take me to an underwater cave at the bottom of the sea.”
On we went, diving deeper still until we found the cave of sub-marine writing pad lore. We entered and swam along for a bit until we turned a corner and found ourselves at the bottom of a great coral canyon.
The space between the two massive, coral-encrusted walls was narrow, and it was clear we’d have to pass through single file. As we repositioned ourselves and prepared to swim up through the ravine, Nick took out his notepad and stylus once again. He finished his message and again turned the pad around for us to read. Though names may escape me, I will remember this moment for the rest of my life.
Slow everything down.
He was talking about our breath and movement. If we wanted to pass safely through this canyon we’d have to reserve our oxygen, and to do that, we needed to keep our movement and our breathing to a minimum. Everything had to become relaxed and purposeful. I was absolutely floored. And something clicked. I couldn’t look away from the three words floating in black before me.
Slow everything down.
It was like an incantation — some magic spell with power so great it need only be written to unleash its force. I was struck, caught off guard by its simplicity, but spellbound by its gravity. I knew, floating there transfixed by these three simple words, that this short, unassuming phrase must guide me through not just the magnificent coral trench that lay before me, but the rest of my life.
We nodded, communicating our understanding. Nick gave the “okay” sign, and we returned it, looking upwards towards the glittering light that the Australian sun sent shining down through the canyon. Nick turned around and swam forward. I took a breath and followed, relaxed and purposeful, slowing everything down.
In a few hours I arrive in Indonesia, setting foot on Asian soil for the first time in my life. As I begin the next chapter of my adventure, I will hold tight to these three treasures, my precious stowaways from across the sea.
To drifting, unanchored,