The Aussie experience

N8N’s Iris Riddell has just returned from a 12-day trip to Australia, filled with drumming, fancy waistcoats and friendly reptiles.

Hugging a snake was never something I envisioned myself doing, but you know what they say: when in Australia, do as the Australians do.

Ruth gets a carpet python shoulder massage.

Okay, so the individual my friend Ruth and I stayed with on our last night in Sydney with was no regular Australian – you don’t come across that many belly-dancing snake veterinarians, and carpet pythons aren’t exactly common pets, even in the dangerous reptile capital of the world.

The belly-dancing snake vet in question was a woman called Vonika, who we met at the January TaikOz Intensive, a five-day taiko drumming workshop, and the main reason we were holed up on the other side of the ditch.

Ruth and I are members of Wai Taiko, the resident Japanese drumming group in Hamilton. Last year, we received a grant from Arts Waikato to attend the workshop, without which neither of us could have gone. And oh, was it worth it! The day would start at 6:15 with a morning run for those who were keen (NB: I wasn’t) followed by stretches and breathing exercises on the grass at 7:30, breakfast at 8:00 and then nothing but drumming from 9:00 ’til 5:00. Well, that’s not strictly true. There was also dancing. And flute practice. And more drumming. Five days of workshops, performances, friends and piles of great food – it was excellent.

A line of drums await a line of drummers in the barrell room at Eling Winery.

When we finally came to pack up our tent on the fifth and final day (a long process as we had to attack it thoroughly with baby wipes to appease the gods of NZ customs), almost every bit of me hurt. My head hurt from trying to cram in so much new information, my arms hurt from playing odaiko, my abs hurt from yatai practice, my legs were stiff from onikenbai and my hands were sporting a cluster of new calluses. At least my feet were a’okay.

Ruth and I opted to stay in Sydney for a few days after the workshop, to explore and get some much-needed rest. But we were on a shoestring budget and accommodation is expensive in Sydney, and we didn’t know anyone who could put us up (this is before we met the snake vet, you see). so we went for the next best thing: someone we didn’t know who could put us up. In other words, we delved into the mysterious world of the CouchSurfers.

CouchSurfing is a worldwide network built up on trust and couch cushions. Basically, if you have some spare space, you can advertise it on your profile and people can apply to stay with you for free. Ruth, a seasoned CouchSurfer, jacked us up weeks before the trip. Our host was a woman called Sally, an instructor at the local trapeze school. Formerly a chocolate chef in London, she now has aspirations of being a pole-dancing instructor. I don’t know where she gets the energy.

I’m not a city person. Never have been, never will be – I always feel drowned in big cities, so it was quite a surprise that I rather liked Sydney. It’s full of nooks, crannies, and whole streets of quirk.

Does it really need a caption?

We did the touristy thing with the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge and the Botanical Gardens, but overall that left me cold. My favourite spot was a district called Newtown, which was full to bursting with retro/indie/hippie clothes shops and cafés. I picked up some bicycle chain earrings for a friend because, you know, bicycle chain earrings. During my adventures in Newtown, I also stumbled upon a shop selling vaguely steampunk/neo-Victorian clothing and picked up a waistcoat and bustle skirt combo that hoovered away what money I would have saved from CouchSurfing. Oh well.

Our flight arrived back in New Zealand around midnight. While I drowsed with the luggage at Auckland Airport, Ruth disappeared in to one of the back rooms with the scary customs people to inspect the tent we’d used during the intensive. She emerged about ten minutes later with the tent and a triumphant grin. “The customs officer said ‘I’ve been in this job over a decade, and this is the cleanest tent I’ve ever seen’.” Let’s hear it for baby wipes.

As fun and exciting as it is to travel, it’s also good to come home to a cup of tea and a cat. A cat who has just reminded me she hasn’t yet had second breakfast. Apparently, snakes only need feeding every few weeks; I admit there’s some appeal to that, but hey. Snakes don’t purr. They can keep ‘em.

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Number 8 Network - a community website for the rural areas northeast of Hamilton, NZ, is run by Gordonton journalist/editor Annette Taylor.

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