Under The Southern Cross

From top middle to bottom right – the new decoration on the wall of our front room

Since the first new year post was written in a dark, deserted Ghanaian beach bar in 2015, each one has looked to reflect on how much ground has been covered in the previous 12 months.

Sometimes there has been plenty of movement in terms of travel mileage, other times the change has come in life without actually going anywhere.

And during Covid, it seemed like nothing had happened yet everything had changed. All while going absolutely nowhere.

But doubt if any year will match 2023 for the amount of ground covered, both in terms of distance and changes in my life.

All, oddly, while feeling as stable and grounded as my life has done in a long time.

Not that things have not changed – a lot.

The Barron River Falls en route to Kuranda. Try Googling them to see what they looked like a few weeks ago

Last year’s post was written in my flat in Gloucester in the middle of a British winter. This one comes from our spare room/office in Canberra in shorts and flip-flops with the sun shining and a forecast of temperatures topping 30C tomorrow.

That does not tell the full story. It was lashing down here yesterday and, rather like places at home and the River Severn across the other side of the Docks basin from that Gloucester flat, flooding has been the major weather news in parts of Australia.

Thankfully not here, although the mix of sun and storms appears to be the perfect conditions for our deranged pumpkin plant to take over the garden. Although not necessarily grow any pumpkins.

When that new year post was written, an email confirming my Australian visa had not longed popped into my inbox, Lisa had headed home alone for the final time and the to-do list to packing up my life in the UK and moving to the other side of the world had begun.

And that is what bought a sense of stability. A feeling of certainty.

For several of these new year, state-of-the-nation posts, a common theme has been one of uncertainty, a perpetual state of limbo and – unlike that pumpkin plant – an inability to put down too many roots.

First it was because of more travel looming on the horizon, then not knowing how long we would have to wait for the world to open up again after Covid as we carried out a long-distance relationship constrained by the size of a screen and quality of a video call.

Then, amid a mountain of paperwork, there was the wait for the visa.

Not in Gloucester now, Toto

That mountain had to be scaled again in recent months for the post-wedding next step to making the visa permanent and it is reaching the point where every email brings a frisson of excitement that the latest wait might be over (ahead of another application to enable leaving/re-entering the country to return home for a family wedding if the latest update does not arrive in time).

But, to all intents and purposes, there is some certainty about my life.

Probably more than there has been since that decision over a few drinks to first quit my job to go travelling. Possibly further back than a couple of personal events which may well have played a part in that decision.

Had no idea where that would lead – well, New York initially, given that was the eventual destination of that first trip – but pretty sure getting married and living in Australia was never one of the possible outcomes.

But 12 months on from drawing up that to-do list to move, here we are.

The flat was packed up, its contents shipped Down Under, raided by family (my stereo headed off to a good home) or collected by a charity shop.

My life in the UK wrapped up, bar a couple of financial issues kept alive for convenience, the door shut behind me and my first step on Aussie soil – country number 68 – was to start unwrapping a new one.

The biggest concern was getting a job, but the sharp eyes of a friend spotted the perfect vacancy and a little more than a week before getting on the plane, that one was ticked off and PA Media had a British member of its overnight Australian team.

A less reliable member of the PA Australia team

Having travelled all that way, have had more bylines over the last few months in some titles than in much of the time they actually employed me.

So ensconced in a new job and new home (another thing which, thankfully, was waiting for me – complete with cat, who only hid under the sofa for the first couple of hours), much of the year has been about settling into a new life in a new country.

Will mine that topic for some future posts but it is not all that different. Take away the odd kangaroo and some very odd mullets. In this neck of the woods they even serve pints – at least if you ask them to.

And that is pretty much my year. Bar two things which go hand in hand – the person who was the reason for the move in the first place (who reckons she is the star of this blog) and our wedding.

The big day itself is covered elsewhere, coming not before the honeymoon but in the middle as we opted to maintain our record of keeping things non traditional.

The trip provided – a weekend in Sydney that featured a reunion from that original London to New York trip apart – my first real chance to explore some of Australia outside the ACT (albeit we are just over the border, which runs along the end of the road, where they do not serve pints) as we headed north into Queensland. Some of the bits which really have been flooded in recent weeks.

A rare moment when there was only one of them perched on me in Kuranda

A few days in Brisbane were highlighted by a trip to see England’s women play Nigeria – and become part of a select few who have seen an England team win a World Cup penalty shootout – and the post-match dash to find a hint of space in a bar to watch Australia.

A short (ish) flight – by their standards – took us up to Cairns with day trips around the waterfalls of the Atherton Tablelands and, via a small train and cable car return above the trees, to the small town of Kuranda and a run-in with some birds.

Apparently they took a liking to me as a perch. Thankfully, the larger animals next door did not feel the same way.

Clicking into wedding mode (which both of us attempted to avoid as much as possible), a boat whisked us off to Fitzroy Island for a few days – not managing to do the same with the flowers, photographer and celebrant as a breakdown delayed the ceremony.

The locals can be a bit shy

But, bar that, it all went smoothly and well into the evening at a meal overlooking the ocean.

Our first act as a married couple was… behave… to relax on the island before heading further north to Port Douglas and more exploration of the Danetree area and a boat trip out to the Great Barrier Reef for snorkelling and even a quick submersible ride around the coral.

One of us is much more at home in the water – and the tropical temperatures of the far north – than the other.

That was 2023. Emigrating, new life and a wedding. Huge changes, but a sense of belonging and stability.

The next 12 months look quieter, but that continued stability suits me fine. There’s the standard plans – lose weight, get fit, write here more regularly – plus a trip back to the UK/France and a desire to see some more of my new home (there’s wineries around here need exploring).

And that all sounds fine to me.

Sunset from Fitzroy Island
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