The first time I tried walking in Oz, I had only lived in the country for a single month. Until this time I had been living with my boyfriend in his University accommodation but it was becoming clear that my continued existence there was not getting along with his flatmates and that the Uni itself would be quite annoyed at this arrangement if they were to find out. I moved out and stayed in a lovely flat only 10 minutes drive away with some other university students. I was pleased that I was staying so close, and intended to pay my boyfriend a surprise visit very soon after my move was complete.
Now, where my flat was happened to be on the way into town from the University, a journey we had driven many times before, so I felt I knew the route I was going to take. Just needed to walk on a path alongside the road, simple. I gauged that a 10 minute car journey would equate to a 30 minute walk, as is the case in the UK for me as I walk pretty quick. At about six pm, with great excitement, I got some stuff together and started my first walk in Australia.
I walk everywhere in the UK, I’m currently walking 40 minutes to work rather than catch the bus because I enjoy walking so much. And because I live somewhere almost completely urbanised, walking is very easy. As I left the suburb where I lived, I found that I was walking on an incredibly wide path. I felt confused about this until I noticed a sign that clearly stated that this path was for pedestrians, motorbikes AND cars. This really should have been my first hint that walking in Oz would not be like my journeys in the UK. I pressed on, put in some headphones and enjoyed walking in the summer sun. I found it longer to get anywhere whilst walking in Australia, so I can only assume that I walk slower in the heat and I was surprised at how little headway I had made as the sun began to set. At about seven, the path had thinned and moved away from the road, where there was no lighting of any kind. This was fine until the darkness started to roll in and I took out my headphones just in case someone tried to run up and grab me. My instinct being that my HEARING this would somehow protect me despite my lack of strength and stamina when it comes to running. The lack of lighting got to me first and I was relieved when the path looped back closer to the road, where I could at least see where I was going.
By this point I’d been walking for so long that I’d started to lose confidence in my direction and the darkness wasn’t helping. I knew there was a turning somewhere but I couldn’t figure out where and landmarks were now totally shrouded. In the light of the road lamps I could see people STARING at me, as though I were doing something completely mad and people started to honk at me, presumably students who were going to town to get more drunk but it freaked the hell out of me. I took a wrong turn at one point and became anxious and panicky, wandering back to the main road still not certain about where the hell I was.
Then I hit the long grass. In England, there’s basically nothing natural that can kill you, so long grass is something I spent my childhood gleefully playing in. Oz was a different matter and, in the dark, I could no longer see the tiny path and kept wandering into long grass. I became certain that snakes, spiders and other joyless creatures were certain to be lurking there and would kill me instantly if I didn’t jump out of the long grass and back onto the path like a demented Olympic athlete. It was dark, suddenly cold, I didn’t know where I was or where to go and there were things that could kill me.
I started to cry and decided now was the time to call my boyfriend. He was bemused to get my call at about half seven in the evening, seeing as he hadn’t expected to see me, and he certainly didn’t expect his girlfriend to be in tears and blubbering about desperately needing a lift. He patiently asked where I was and I gave a rough description, which he instantly recognised and asked me to backtrack a little where there was a well-lit area he’d be able to collect me.
Now, the worst thing about a walk is when you have to backtrack and I trudged my return trip to that lamppost like someone going into exile. I felt like one of my favourite things to do had been wrenched out of my grasp and now my boyfriend would have to save me, when I had meant for it to be a nice surprise. I stood under the light, near a bus stop and tried to collect myself together.
It was then that the police drove past. The moment I saw the car I felt like they might stop and ask what I was doing but tried to nervously laugh it off as my paranoia. Sadly, they did stop and asked what I was doing. My first thought was “Bloody hell, does no one WALK is this country?” and I suddenly wondered if seeing a woman standing under a lamppost after dark in Australia constituted to prostitution in their eyes. I replied nervously, tearfully and probably suspiciously that my boyfriend was coming to get me and they drove off, looking as though they wanted to ask more questions but chose to leave the poor British girl alone. When boyfriend did turn up, I had a pathetic weep in his car and vowed never to attempt that walk again after dark.
I did manage the walk during the day, and it took forever. Plus the entrance was not built with the intention of people walking to it, so there was no path at all. I conquered that walk once, not allowing my tears and police car interaction to be the end of it, but never bothered again.