5. Living Alone In A Caravan In The Aussie Bush

The sun was setting as I strolled to my car which I was expecting to lose as well.

There it was parked at the meter like every other car – except for one noticeable difference.

Mine was the family sedan loaded to the roof with all my worldly belongings.

But for pots and pans hanging out the windows it could well have been a gypsy caravan.

As I drove out of the city, with barely enough room for me to squeeze into the driver’s seat, that’s exactly how I felt. Like a gypsy.

As the suburban houses in rows gave way to thoroughbreds grazing on flat almost treeless plains, I was leaving behind everything familiar.

Ahead of me lay the unknown. In my mind there was no tomorrow.

As I choked back the lump in my throat it began to sink in that I was now literally, and shockingly, homeless and unemployed.

Soon the flat grazing land turned to gentle rolling hills with eucalypt forest broken occasionally by cleared land and small farms.

The sky was brilliant red as if beckoning me into the hills of the Great Dividing Range.

The air became colder and the trees of the bush became taller and more majestic as they met in a canopy across the road in front of me.

I felt as if I had died and that was my life I had just departed.

As I imagine happens when we die, my whole life was passing before me as I drove along the quiet back roads of some of nature’s most picturesque works of art.

The last few years seemed in that moment like a lifetime.

There was my freelance advertising business of fifteen years.

There was my second marriage.

I was leaving behind my family, my two daughters from my earlier marriage.

Selling up everything I owned, including my new apartment in a leafy suburb by the bay, wasn’t enough to save me.

And so, now, I had no choice but to accept my fate.

I had failed.

I felt defeated and broken.

Darkness descended. Patches of fog brushed past me as I climbed higher into the hills. Is this how it feels when you die, I wondered?

First the sense of loss, of leaving everything familiar behind, without any choice? Letting go of everything you own? Leaving behind your loved ones?

Then a journey through the darkness and the fog? The uncertainty of not knowing what lay ahead? Leaving the familiar for the unfamiliar? Feeling totally alone?

To be honest, where I was heading wasn’t entirely unfamiliar.

At one time, when I was riding the crest of a wave of success, we’d bought a country cottage with a white picket fence on an acre of land complete with a spring-fed well as our weekend escape, a drive of about an hour and a half from our inner suburban home.

I’d call for my daughters, load up the car, and head off away from the madness to my country paradise.

I had a crazy dream to live there with my family and write my first bestselling book, paint some masterpieces and grow some fruit and vegetables (already I had planted fifty fruit and nut trees), and live on my peaceful self-sufficient acre for the rest of my life.

So much for dreams.

Things started to get tough and to keep the ship afloat we sold our acre of paradise before I ever got to pick a single fruit, as I began to lose clients which started the slide that had brought me to this point of no return, this time a one-way journey I was making into the night back to the place I had dreamed I could find happiness – where I did find happiness, once, but it was only for two days in every fortnight when my family was briefly together.

It’s funny about dreams and wishes. They seldom work out the way you imagine. 

There I was heading back, alone, without the familiar chattering of children and the wailing protests of cats confined to their cat boxes for an hour or two. And no country cottage. 

I wondered about our wishes and dreams, whether they were glimpses of a destiny written into our life’s journey but we often get it wrong, a vague inner knowing we unconsciously respond to when we're ready, a dream we dreamed before we were born – then we wake up and forget the dream.

Was this night, this journey I was making alone, the real dream? Did my old life have to be shattered before this dream, whatever form it might take, could begin to take shape at the right time?

And then, where was this leading?

There’s a Buddhist aphorism:

“You have come here to find what you already have.”

As I drove into the tiny hamlet of Glenlyon, with its avenue of magnificent old oaks lining the road through the town, the car seemed to stop of its own accord outside our cottage beside the general store. 

How I desperately wanted to drive in through the rusty old gate, unpack the car and settle in for the rest of my life.

In the darkness I imagined I could see the girls playing around the open ground behind the house and hear their squeals of delight. 

I could just make out the old deserted bluestone church on the hill where we’d walk the dog and where the children would create fairy gardens beneath their favourite pine trees. 

And I imagined them happily riding their push bikes along the back road behind the cottage as they loved to do in the wide open spaces devoid of traffic.

With a heavy heart I drove on into the small town of Hepburn Springs where Barbara and Geoff had offered me one of their small holiday flats for a short time until the next holiday season at a very cheap rate, until I could sort out what I was going to do and where I would live. 

I arrived with $500 (about $US350 at the exchange rate at the time) in my pocket – my entire fortune – to last until my first unemployment benefit which wouldn't arrive for another two weeks. 

I had no idea if I could live solely on welfare. It was just one of a thousand unknowns.

I collected the key then drove on to the flat, hastily unpacked the car and collapsed into bed. 

The long, long day was over and I was exhausted. What hadn’t yet dawned on me yet was that tomorrow would be the beginning of the rest of my life.

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Illustration by Jeff 'Wizard of Draws' in this blog and are not included in the book

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