Recently, I watched The Man From Snowy River and its sequel, Return To Snowy River. Watching those movies was a leftover from my to-do list when I was in Australia last summer. That was where I first heard of the movies, as The Man From Snowy River was a major player in the Australian film industry. It’s based on a famous poem by Banjo Patterson, the Robert Service of Aussie poets.
I decided while I was in Australia to learn as much as I could about the country and the culture. Australia shares similar roots to Canada and the US (settled by European immigrants, part of the British empire, etc.) and has been heavily influenced by North America. Finding the core of the country was not as easy as traveling to a place like Thailand, completely different from Canada, where everything about the country shouts at you that you are in a different country.
I could have traveled around Australia like a Bill Bryson, taking a cursory glimpse of everything and judging the Aussies for their “strange” ways and differences from North Americans. I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to get to know the Australians.
I stayed at a tiny hostel outside Sydney for a couple of weeks, working for the Australian hosts and learning from them. We swapped stories of our countries and tidbits of information. They recommended Australian authors like Henry Lawson and Tim Winton. We watched the wallabies playing on the lawn and the kookaburras fighting in the trees.
I went to Tamworth to spend a couple weeks learning how to be a jillaroo (Aussie cowgirl). We learned to ride horses in the high country of Australia, to muster the cattle, to crack a cattle whip, to shovel cottonseed. We listened to music by Australian singers like Slim Dusty and John Williamson. We heard stories of other cattle stations from the old Aussie jackeroos (cowboys).
Final night of the Leconfield school
we primp in the girls’ dorm.
No dirty pants, baggy shirts, Akubra hats tonight.
Instead it’s mascara, curling irons, black tops and jeans.
Feeling like ladies instead of jillaroos, we walk
over to the Pink Room to meet the guys
who pass the beer, turn up the music, deal their cards.
Soon we’ve paired off—the Aussie bloke
bats at the Danish girl’s bottom. The Swedes
snuggle in the corner and the German boy and I flirt—
me, a small-town girl who’s never had a boyfriend
or a drink before sharing his box of green apple wine,
sitting shoulder to shoulder on the couch then
linking arms, chugging our wine, leaning in to kiss—
but no, wait, only on the cheek
like a sister, not a lover. Then goodnight
before midnight and back to the dorm
with the taste of green apple wine in my mouth—
bitter as regret, sweet as first love, young
as unshaven cheeks or unkissed lips.
I worked briefly on a cattle station in Alice Springs, where I saw how huge the cattle stations are, how flat the land is, and met some local Aboriginals. Then I worked for a month at a small historical museum there. I talked to the local Aboriginal tour guide—descended from John Ross, one of the early European explorers in Australia—who was full of stories about his growing up, the residential schools, the telegraph station.
Watching The Man From Snowy River brought back memories. I’ve seen a horse go down a hill like Jim Craig does in the movie and I’ve mustered cattle as he musters horses. I’ve heard the Aussie accents, the way they talk and call each other “mate.” I didn’t make it to the Snowy Mountains, but I saw other parts of Australia that were similar.
The Man From Snowy River is a coming-of-age movie about a young man, and my time in Australia was very much a coming-of-age season for me. I learned more about myself and my faith during my summer there, as well as another culture and country.
I did not see all of the country, nor can I claim that I really know the Australians. But in my time there, I tried to see as much as I could, not only the big things like Uluru and the Sydney Harbour Bridge, but also the smaller things, like the people and their heroes.