Melbourne – I gave it a whirl. It sent me back to Spain.

When I arrived back in Melbourne in late May I felt I had the world at my feet. I had walked the Camino, I could do anything.

The first few weeks were spent with friends in the country, recovering from jet lag and letting my feet heal. I walked most mornings around five kilometres along the rail trail where the trains once ran but has now been converted to a natural trail for bicyclists, walkers and horse riders. I walked the trail and through nature reserves. It made me feel like I was still walking the Camino – but without the backpack, sticks, boots nd friends.

During the day, when I wasn’t helping out with the lambing and the sheep, I would apply for jobs. Occasionally, I would get an interview which meant a three hour bus ride up into Melbourne.  I felt confident, I felt happy, I felt like I was on the edge of a new beginning. I made plans of places I wanted to go, things I wanted to see, places I wanted to eat at and suburbs where I wanted to live.

As the weeks turned into months and the job offers were not rolling in, I started to lose my Camino mojo. It was harder for me to conjure up memories and smile.  I would be pushed and shoved and I would push and shove myself onto trams and trains to meet with recruiters on a path that ended up going nowhere. Finally I landed a temporary role in the Department of Health and Human Services pulling together the department’s annual report. Oh what fun!

I had been couch surfing but it was now time to find my own space. As my job was only a month contract, then extended for another month, I could not get my own place to live. I was underemployed and homeless, relying on the generosity of friends and their beds. I found a place out on the edge of the city called “Breakfree”. Breakfree was once a hospital in Melbourne’s northern suburbs. It was a strange place with a strange mix of people. Chinese tourists bumped against international students. Holiday makers looking for clean, cheap accommodation miles outside of Melbourne shared the lift with junkies, alcoholics and people in “temporary” accommodation. This is where I lived for much of the time I was in Melbourne. It was a depressing place. More often than not, I could not tell if the sobs I heard were coming from the room next door or an echo of my own.

During the time I spent at the Breakfree, I got to know some of my fellow lodgers. I stayed away from the young guy with the face tattoo – of what looked to be a gummy bear – and the large plastic ankle bracelet. Like the rest of the lodgers he obviously needed a bit of luck however, I doubted he would be able to break free so easily.

Going back to work was not as difficult as I thought. I enjoyed the small team I was working with, the money was good and the nine to five came back easily. At first. Then the routine of passive aggressive behaviour, eye-rolling, finger pointing and office politics started in on me.  Mind you, I was doing most of the eye-rolling. What the hell was I doing?  After months of travelling and writing, I began to question if I could do office work again. This combined with my home life at Casa del desperatos was certainly not an ideal combination.  I was fortunate that my fabulous Melbourne friends kept me sane and propped me up emotionally and with dinners and respite from what had become my world.

I had enough money for some months rent in advance but no opportunity to be successful in the rental market with less than a 12 month contract.  One of the people I was working with mentioned perhaps I could be interested in filling for her for two months after my current contract finished.  I thought maybe, but then that would mean two more months at the hotel.  What should I do?  I started testing the waters, “So, I am thinking of going back to Spain ….” I would say. Melbourne friends at first then I moved on to my family – sisters and nieces. The reaction I got was largely positive especially when I explained my thinking.

My time in Melbourne was simply the working holiday component of my gap year.  I could now go back to Spain and finish it off.  What was my plan? Years ago, one sunny winter afternoon, I was strolling a market in Fortitude Valley in Brisbane.  I picked up an old book ‘She Travelled Alone in Spain’.  Flicking through the pages and reading the blurb had me interested. It was written in the early 1930s, published in 1935, just prior to the Spanish Civil War.  The book was written by Nina Murdoch (no relation) an Australian journalist and author who broke the conventional boundaries of the day and travelled overseas alone in Spain writing about her journey. I decided I would follow in Nina’s footsteps. Through her words seeing Spain as she did then – and through my words Spain as it is today. Before long, I found instead of saying “I’m thinking of going back to Spain” my words changed to “I’m going back to Spain”. Decision made. Tickets booked.  The next day I thought to myself “What am I doing????”. I am going back to Spain I told myself and I found myself smiling.

Now with my departure date approaching, I am getting nervous. People had asked me before starting the Camino if I was worried about doing it alone.  I wasn’t.  I knew the Camino was a busy path and that many people walked it alone.  I knew that I would meet people from all over the world. I knew I would find people to walk with and I would find people to avoid. Following in Nina’s footsteps will be different. It is not a worn pathway. I will not be walking but rather taking whatever transport Nina did, be it train, bus or donkey. I will be visiting cities in southern Spain.  Cites I have never visited but have longed to walk their ancient streets. The cities of Córdoba, Granada, Sevilla. The sound of these cities as I say them to myself brings music and romance to my ears. Yet I am fearful to tread alone – with only Nina for constant company.

If you would like to support me as I travel alone in Spain, please see my go fund me page at

For the price of a good book, $20, you will help me on my journey and get to read along as I look at Spain in the early 1930s and now.  You can also support me with words of encouragement and support on this blog or the seat of my pants facebook page. Every little bit helps.

Special shout-out to my amigos para siempre – the friends in Melbourne who loved, supported, fed and sheltered me – even if it meant one of their own children sharing their bed. Jenny and Rocky Vega-Meehan; George Wright and Luke Fittolani and Bella and Max Fittolani-Wright; Siobhan Barry; Leigh Abernethy; and, Meggs Meggs. Thank you one and all.

2 thoughts on “Melbourne – I gave it a whirl. It sent me back to Spain.”

  1. Dear Gen,
    Here’s the title for your book-
    ‘My Year of Living Awkwardly: Travels in Spain and Travails in Melbourne’.
    XOX, Meggs – I want full credit for ghost-writing the introduction. © 2017

    … It had been a hot summer. I’d been digging bindies out of the yellowing lawn, which I sprinkled devotedly. I was heartbroken and angered when the branch that shaded the porch and my bedroom had been vandalised. (The birds also missed it.) My brilliant career was coming to its natural end, resulting in a hot-desking temping job overlooking the airport. It would be the last Christmas that my now-adult son would spend under the family roof. He, his father and I had all planned our gap year of travel.
    My plan was to walk the Camino, from the French border, across the north of Spain. I did so with blackened toes and weary ankles but a (mostly) light heart. In all the elements of heat and blizzards I clambered up hills and slid down hills. I was in love with life. I arrived at Santiago, with the permission slip to avoid Purgatory as proof of how far I’d walked.
    As the money had ‘run out’ it was time to return ‘home’- with the intention that home would be a different city- Melbourne. Many friends and family live there. I wanted a change upon my return to Australia. I had full expectations that I’d find a temping job easily, to not dip further into the savings that I’d need for a bond, rent and furniture in a groovy, inner-city apartment. Alas, not to be. No long-term contracts. No permanent position. Close to two months of waiting before I landed a month’s contract writing an annual report for a government department, which was extended for a second month. The uncertainty made it impossible to take out a lease on an apartment. I slept in the ironing-board cupboards of various friends in the city and country. I rented an apartment for a week. I also had a couple of stints at the ‘hotel de desperadoes’ in a middle-ring suburb. I made the decision that I could blow my money marching time in Melbourne or I could resume my gap year.
    Minutes before my birthday I boarded a plane, in the rain, for the south of Spain.


  2. Go Gen! Those boots were still made for walking and walking is what they are going to do..even if its to a bus stop or train station. Will be thinking of you xx


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