This month I’ve been travelling home to Australia to visit family and friends. It’s been a strange visit, somewhat rushed, bittersweet and filled with a terrible sense of reverse culture shock. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so tired or disoriented than after going from a deep Sicilian winter into the middle of a warm Western Australian summer. My head is swimming with confusion and recalling many little details I’d forgotten.
I always get this strange sense of deja vu in the first few days off the plane driving around the same old streets from my childhood. I’m sad to see many old landmarks disappear, and sometimes I struggle to recognise my old friend, Oz.
This strange sense of foreignness usually doesn’t last long as I get back into a routine, but this time I haven’t been able to shake it.
I’m gradually recalling what I loved about home, its landscapes, colours, the laid back and warm nature of the people and the incredible amount of space there is to create your own path. For the first time, I’ve realised how European I’ve become: small things make me cringe, I am a snob about my food, I’m riddled with culture shock, and for the first time I feel like a foreigner.
But I am determined to pick up my friendship with Australia where it left off, as true friendships never die, they merely need to be revived every once in a while.
Every day here I am happily breathing in the fragrances of the summer, getting a bit of a tan and merely soaking up everything around me, gathering and making new memories.
This year I have had the privilege of visiting the coastal city of Geraldton North of Perth. Thanks to my sister in laws beautiful family who lives in this charming Midwestern regional city I have been able to experience this place with many insights from the locals who adore their town.
Located 424 kilometres away from the capital, which is easily reached by plane in a fifty-five-minute plane journey Geraldton has a population of 37,432 people. It has a beautiful location right by the ocean and is a quirky mix of farmers, fishermen, families, miners, surfers and laid back trendy alternative vibe.
The port of Geraldton is a significant link in the west coast in the major industries of the region like mining, fishing, wheat, sheep and tourism.
Since 1840 ships have been tugged in and out of the port twenty-four seven and the crystal clear waters are mesmerising.
The Batavia coast marina has been developed into a beautiful succession of jetty’s, fisherman wharves, yacht clubs, high rise apartments, beaches, a museum, restaurants and many other fascinating points of interest to explore.
The Geraldton Foreshore is the centre of Geraldton’s social and family life. Zigzagged with cycle and walking paths it is where locals do their early morning workout, there are many playgrounds, picnic areas, beaches, cafe’s, fish and chips places and even a free water park.
One of the distinctly colourful local food places has to be The Jaffel Shack. Anyone having an early morning swim will find delicious coffee and full breakfasts in the little surfing themed hut which spills out on the foreshore. It’s the perfect place for a snack or a milkshake after you go to the beach. (Jaffles are crusty toasted sandwiches, a word I either had forgotten entirely or perhaps never even knew.)
Shopping at Geraldton is terrific fun, there are many surf stores and trendy boutiques to explore especially along Marine Terrace. Even if you don’t buy anything a walk around the streets of the town will be filled with street art, cafe’s and newly renovated pubs and eateries to explore.
The only downer to visiting Geraldton in the summer is the terribly hot and robust desert winds which literally howl through the town in the afternoons. It is much better to visit in the mild winters as you won’t be battered by the wind, or risk to be blown to one side like many of the local trees along the roadsides.
The streets of Geraldton are broad, comfortable and welcoming, just like the locals. The golden sunsets are always spectacular, and the light makes it perfect for landscape photography. The place has a beautiful colonial country feel, like stepping back into time. Every photo I take has the feeling of an old black and white or sepia picture filled with character and tales to tell.
The memorial of the World War two cruiser HMAS Sydney is located above Geraldton on Mount Scott. The beautifully sombre memorial recognises the loss of 645 lives in what still remains Australia’s most devastating naval loss after being sunk together with and by a German ship off Shark Bay in November 1941.
The Memorial is made up of steel based on the ships original prow, a granite wall listing the names of the ship’s crew, a bronze statue of a woman looking out to sea and I dome made up of 645 seagulls dedicated to the souls of the people who died at sea.
When I visited the monument, there were many people who were making the most of the scenic view from above Geraldton. A handsome couple of Indian newlyweds were having their wedding photos taken in the beautiful light, their celebration gave the monument a sense of elegance, respect and honour. What a special place to have your photograph taken.
Taking a drive out of Geraldton towards Point Gregory to see a magical pink coloured lake I was reminded of the golden expansive Australian landscape which is barren and dry in the summer yet beautiful. It reminded me of the expansive golden interior of Sicily, near Enna which is like a twany coloured quilt cover with its flowing hills and harsh sunshine.
Looking out from the airconditioned car along the drive to Point Gregory I recalled an old poem by Australian writer Dorothy Mackellar titled My country:
I love a sunburnt country,
A land of sweeping plains,
Of ragged mountain ranges,
Of droughts and flooding rains.
I love her far horizons,
I love her jewel-sea,
Her beauty and her terror
The wide brown land for me!
Port Gregory lies near the mouth of the Hutt River on Western Australia’s Coral Coast and is home of the Pink Lake called Hutt Lagoon. This picturesque fishing village is encircled by five kilometres of exposed coral reef. Originally developed to serve the Geraldine Lead mine, the town is now a holiday hotspot for fishing and diving.
Hutt Lagoon boasts a pink hue created by the presence of carotenoid-producing algae Dunaliella salina, a source of ß-carotene, a food-colouring agent and source of vitamin A.
The lagoon is about 70 square kilometres with most of it lying a few metres below sea level. It is separated from the Indian Ocean by a beach barrier ridge and barrier dune system. Similar to Lake MacLeod, 40 kilometres to the north of Carnarvon, Hutt Lagoon is fed by marine waters through springs.
The intensity of the lake’s colour changes right before your eyes at times it doesn’t seem pink at all then as the desert wind begins to blow and the heat begins to burn your face the lake appears to heat up and blushes in light pink. As we stood on the banks, the lake put on a lovely show for use, blooming into a gorgeous deep fuschia colour.
Driving out onto the salt flats, the pink salt surface looks like ice, crunching under your feet and caking your shoes in light salt. It is another worldly landscape, and it takes me back to Sicily once again. For a moment I find myself near Marsala on western Sicily at the salt mines. The same hot desert air whips up the salt only here at Port Gregory no colourful windmills are helping to churn out the stockpiles of natural sea salt.
Overlooking the Indian Ocean, the Museum of Geraldton celebrates the rich heritage of the land, sea and people of the Mid West region.
The beautiful new Maritime history museum allows you to discover ancient landforms, Yamaji history and culture, and the region’s unique natural landscapes and marine environment.
The archaeological riches included in the museum’s exhibitions include details from four different Dutch shipwrecks off Geraldton’s coast (Batavia, Gilt Dragon, Zuytdorp and Zeewijk). The whole coastline along from Geraldton is littered with wrecks from the 17th and 18th centuries as the Dutch traders would travel to and from Amsterdam into modern India and Java.
The story of the Batavia is probably the most fascinating of all of the wrecks, coming aground near the Abrolhos fishing islands off Geraldton the fate of the Batavia was marred by a bloody mutiny and has inspired many historians and authors with its mystery and horror.
The St Francis Xavier Cathedral was designed by World renowned Arts & Crafts architect and Catholic priest Monsignor John Hawes (1876 – 1956). Construction began in 1916 and was completed in 1938. The external of the cathedral is made in a golden coloured limestone, with a distinct mixture of Australian colonial and nineteenth-century European architecture. It resembles the Spanish style of New Norcia in the south west of Western Australia.
The Platform markets on Chapman road every Sunday are on the site of the original central railway station at Geraldton. They are an excellent way of exploring the local produce and the vibe of the local people. A mixture of colour, perfumes, food and creativity a visit will give you a perfect impression of the real character of the city. It was also the place I choose to end my trip to Geraldton, casually browsing and chatting with the locals before hopping on a plane back to Perth.