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Published: March 11th 2014
This may well not technically be Melbourne, but it looks a lot like some of the places we visited there.
On reaching Advent, the roasting hot month before Christmas in Australia, I felt the need to not be in a hostel for the holiday season, to somehow soften the blow of not being home. Failing in all my attempts at finding paid employment in the city, I jumped at an ad on gumtree of an almost wwoof-like opportunity: free bed and board in return for helping a lady redecorate her house as a surprise for her husband, how festive. There was me and two other British girls, who were a welcome breath of fresh air after the stagnating backpackers of my last hostel. It turned out to be pretty fun – we painted everything: the shed, the kitchen, furniture, our clothes, and made a decent job of it too, as in the heat of Oz, there’s always time for three coats. But I’m getting a little ahead of the point, because on the first evening I called home for a quick check-in and stepped out into the front yard.
I knew it was happening at the time, I could feel them nipping at me and flirting about in menacing clouds but I was in the middle of a nice chat, which is important when you’re so far from home, and didn’t heed my own instincts. The next morning, the damage was evident. I’d been bitten head to toe by mosquitoes whose signatures were now angry, raised and bright red. And I mean dozens. I put loads of my bite cream on but it didn’t really help the itch and I couldn’t help but scratch at myself like a rabid dog. I think the girls thought I was a bit mad. In my defence it was also very hot so I think that made it worse. I think I even tried putting on some of my trusty aloe-vera after-sun from Byron to no avail.
No matter what the adversity however, the backpacker’s creed is to man-up and sight-see. Which I did – tagging along with Kate and Caroline – who thankfully seemed to know where they were going, unlike me. We scoured every inch of the Melbourne suburbs, all the while with me itching and scratching and looking horribly like a tourist. After two days the weather cooled a little and the skin-rage subsided so I could act a bit more normal again, although it would be months before the scars healed over with any real legitimacy. Footscray itself is not the usual backpacker destination, more of a place to sensibly live, and more sensibly, if you have a car. That hadn’t bothered me much so far though, so I walked down to the local mall and pondered in air-conned comfort the various festive decorations and paraphernalia that have made it to the southern hemisphere – I mean there’s nothing less Christmassy than 35 degree sunshine. I bought an advent calendar for $2. It was December 8th
. I ate it all at once. Ho ho ho.
When we’d outstayed our welcome, I lined up a real wwoof and went straight there from Footscray without passing go. I was sad to leave, but I figured I could hopefully stay at this new place long enough to see out the festive season with a family and then look for work in the outback again. I took with me memories of my lovely host, exploring with the girls, and a growing intolerance to mozzies, whose despicable acts upon my pasty skin would only get worse over the coming months. Whatever you do in Oz – don’t forget the bug spray.
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