Last week I returned from an overnight bike ride to have my wife telling me she was receiving strange SMS messages from someone she didn’t know. Turned out it was a very old friend of mine from Australia and the messages were to call her urgently. Covered in grime and tired from the ride, I showered and then decided to check my Gmail. When my inbox fired up I was confronted with about 20 emails alerting me to the news that a very dear friend Justin Roche had died suddenly. Justin was the same age as me and I had known him since we were teenagers. We lived together in Bondi, we partied together and he had a MASSIVE web of friends all over the world who I knew would be reeling from this news. Almost instantaneously I had the urge to be home in Australia not only to be at the funeral which I knew would be epic but also to see my own family. It had just been too long. After a quick word with my immensely supportive wife (who herself has not been to Australia yet), I was booking a plane and flying out several days later for a 7 day visit. As I hopped planes and transited here and there I became more and more excited and emotional as the realization that it had been over seven years since I had stood on Australian soil really hit home.
I arrived to a stunning winter day in Sydney at 10am. Blue skies, crisp temperature (no humidity – what joy! ) and my big brother waited for me. We winged it through Sydney and under the harbor tunnel to Willoughby and I was soon standing in the familiar surrounds of my brother’s house in Willoughby which was just surreal. After a cup of tea and a chat we headed out to buy supplies. First stop being the boot shop as I was gagging to buy a pair of decent work boots, second stop being the butcher as I was gagging for a monster t-bone steak! That night we has a lovely bbq dinner with most of my nieces and nephews over . Adam (my brother) has become the adoptive patriarch of a rather large clan of his kids partners and some of them live in the house. Interestingly my nieces boyfriends are all tradies (my brother is a builder) and so the house was a mess of steel cap work boots and tools whilst outside the street resembled a Toyota Hilux convention. As the fireplace crackled we polished off steak and VBs and it was just awesome to be home amongst family.
The next day I had the funeral to go to and my best made Darin picked me up in a very flash Chrysler limousine which whisked us down to the church in North Sydney. Outside the church we were met by a role call of scores of friends and acquaintances from the last 30 years and whilst I knew the crowd would be large….it was bigger than I could have imagined. The church was packed to the rafters with hundreds and hundreds of people and I sat surrounded by my oldest friends as we paid respect to Justin. Of course there were tears but there was always an arm around you or a shoulder to lean on and it was a long three hour highly emotionally charged service. After the ceremony around 200 people headed to Northbridge Golf Course for the wake and it was to be an amazing afternoon all around. I could not take 5 steps without bumping into someone I had not seen for 10++++++ years. Everywhere I looked was a sea of my past and it was a surreal afternoon as we hugged and danced and drank and laughed and cried and drank some more. We stayed well into the night until they threw us out and then about 50 of us ended up at a pub down the road. Interestingly….I did not even get drunk. It was like the emotion of the day had put up an anti-booze protective force field so I was in good form and the vibe was just super relaxed and I was just so glad to have been there to show my respects and see everyone.
@ JUSTIN ROCHE’S FUNERAL AND WAKE
Thursday rolls around and I headed up to Chatswood Chase to do some shopping. RMWilliams, General Pants, Just Jeans, Rebel Sport, MAC, SurfDiveNSki…..god was it unreal to be in REAL shops again where people helped you and they had everything in the right sizes etc. I dusted hundreds of dollars in a couple of hours but hell was it worth it. That afternoon we packed up the car and trailer and headed to our Farms on the north coast of NSW. Mum and Dad live on 500 acres and Adam has a smaller lot just up the road. Arriving around 8pm, we had the best lamb shank stew I have ever tasted courtesy of my sister in Law , Larn, and then I hit the hay as I was absolutely shattered. I slept under a heavy doona in a carpeted room and it was just bliss.
The next day I headed down to my parents farm and gave them quite the surprise as I snuck down through the forest above the house and walked into the kitchen nonchalantly. They knew I was coming just not when exactly so they were a little taken aback but no heart attack thankfully ;0). My dog Scout bounded up to me and I am sure recognized me as she absolutely justabout knocked me over and then licked me all over which mum says she never does. I left her with them when she was just over 2 years old so now she is pushing 10++. My sister Sibella and her daughter came out that night for dinner and we sat in front of the huge log fire having a laugh and quaffing some nice aussie red. That night I finally got a real sleep after bed jumping for days. Some 12 hours or more in the familiarity of my parent’s house with all the smells and sounds that makes you feel safe when you are really home.
ADAM AND LARN’S HOUSE “SHRDLU” on the NSW North Coast
Saturday brings more fine weather and I jump on the quad bike and head off for a ride with Scout. We traverse the property and inspect the cattle and paddocks. The place is very dry and we desperately need some rain. IN actual fact the entre are is on a fire alert and my brother Adam and his son Jim service on the local rural fire brigade so they were a tad anxious. Jim picks me up and we head down to Seal Rocks , one of the local stunning beach areas. I am shocked to see the road in has now been tarred and realize it is the end of that little slice of heaven as I have known it. Tour buses will now be able to head in there as will every weekend warrior so I am saddened but I knew it would happen one day. The day is crisp and clear but too cold for swimming and the surf is woeful so I sit and watch. That night we have a huge dinner at my brother’s superb house that he has hand built. With separate pavilions, huge deck areas and a games/snooker room to die for, the house really is very special and I know it provides his family with a lot of joy. We consume fresh oysters and steak and champagne and then after dinner we sit out on the deck under gas heaters with ugg boots on. Some games of snooker are played and again I am just overwhelmed to be home. My heart and mind are sending me so many mixed messages about where I am and where I should be and how far away I feel some times and the stress of having to find work again when I go back to Cambodia. I am so overwhelmed in fact at one stage I need to separate from the masses and have a good long blub and get my head together. *sigh*
The farm “Xanadu” and surroundings
Sunday is my last day and I spend it simply chatting to mum and dad and taking some photos. I am obviously upset I have to say goodbye so soon. The farm is so close to my heart that it cuts me up inside to have to leave when all I want to do is go out and work the cattle and cut some wood. Soon enough I am saying my farewells to mum and dad which I remain solid for but in reality I am just about choking to death inside with the emotion of it all. I just have to work on getting back there with my little family soon for an extended stay. I am driven back to Sydney by Adam and that final night we have a pizza night with extended family including my Sister Rebecca who I haven’t seen for 8 or so years and also my dear old mate Duncan and his wife Alice who I last saw at my wedding.
And with that my time in Australia was done. I am awoken at 4am by Adam and rushed out to Mascot where I deliriously check through onto the thankfully super empty plane. I am able to stretch out n the middle row for a 5 hour sleep and before I know it I am madding back in Cambodia. I am thrilled to see my wife and children and they are thrilled when I open up the bag of goodies I I have bought home. How am I left feeling I guess you ask ? Only time will tell. Stay tuned….