A Northerner’s Life Down Under

by Sophia Smith

Greetings from down under, where my adventure in the Land of Oz continues to unfold!

 I’m back for the third time, and I’ve got some stories to share, like my first solo flight to exploring the iconic Sydney Opera House and even encountering kangaroos for the first time – finally! 

I swapped Lancashire’s hills for Australia’s sunny shores nine months ago now, and while it’s getting colder for you, it’s warming up for summer here! Australia has a bizarre version of October; they call it spring, but it’s bloomin’ warm even compared to our summers. But, as a Lancashire lass accustomed to a fair share of drizzle, this is quite exciting. My pasty complexion will soon be transformed into a lobster once again.

Waking up to a blue-sky morning with two hot air balloons outside our windows before heading to work was a beautiful twist to my morning routine – as if the world had decided that regular commuting was too dull. But like always, I hopped on the tram and gazed out the window while commuting to work instead.

A recent escapade took me to Sydney, a city renowned for its architectural wonders like the Sydney Opera House and the Harbour Bridge. Despite the warnings from many Melbourne folks that I might not fancy Sydney as much, I felt quite the opposite, even if Sydney’s slightly hillier terrain did leave me gasping for air a few times. They also mentioned it would be a tad warmer, and they weren’t kidding – the heat was cranked up several notches! Sydney welcomed us with a generous dose of sunshine, a rarity during our months in Victoria.


There I stood, pastier than a snowman, attempting to blend in on the sun-kissed shores of Bondi Beach. To my surprise, and maybe yours, it turned out to be rather disappointing; what I saw didn’t quite match the postcard-perfect image I had imagined.

A wander through the historic precinct of The Rocks was a journey back in time. Cobblestone streets wind through charming alleys with quaint shops, lively pubs, and historic buildings that hark back to Sydney’s early settlement days.

Feeding Kangaroos

Not only have I seen my first kangaroo, but I’ve also eaten one! Tasting a kangaroo burger was not the exotic culinary experience I was expecting; it was just like eating a regular beef burger. Yet, the underlying feeling of guilt remained in each bite, as I couldn’t help but think about the ethical implications of consuming a symbol of Australia’s wildlife. Note to self: kangaroo burger – a one-off experience for travel stories, not a repeat offender.

“I couldn’t help but think about the ethical implications of consuming a symbol of Australia’s wildlife.”

Next on my Aussie escapade was Brisbane; flying alone for the first time from Melbourne was nerve-wracking, but I am extremely proud of myself. For anyone who knows me, I have dealt with anxiety for many years. I didn’t even think a year in Australia would be possible several years ago, but against all odds, I proved to myself I am brave, and there is nothing to fear apart from my mind trying to convince me otherwise! Apart from an hour’s delay, the flight went perfectly.

I stayed with my friend Jake, a Kiwi brought up in Queensland. He lived in the iconic Australian house, with its raised timber stumps and a wide, sweeping verandah that wraps around the side of the house, a classic representation of Queensland’s housing design.

After watching the 80’s Aussie flick with Kylie Minogue, “The Delinquents,” I got inspired to follow in Lola and Brownie’s footsteps! I went on an adventure and visited all the spots featured in the movie – from strolling across the Story Bridge to the South Bank Parklands, Queen Street Mall and even stopped by the Regent Theatre for a touch of old-school cinema longing. I also visited The Brisbane Bridge, a magnificent steel giant stretching across the Brisbane River. I watched the hustle of immense skyscrapers defining the urban skyline on one side of the bridge and, on the flip side, the prettiness of the hills and landscapes.

Story Bridge in Brisbane

Recently, I hopped on a VLine train to Ballarat, a regional train that travels through Victoria’s countryside. Expecting a regular train journey, I looked out the window to see a mob of kangaroos jumping alongside the train as I chugged along. It was so mesmerizing, and I couldn’t tear my eyes away for a second until they disappeared.

I was going to Sovereign Hill, a living museum transporting visitors to the 1850s Australian gold rush. I tried my hand at panning for gold in the creek but failed miserably. A hearty Victorian-era pie fueled my adventure, witnessing blacksmiths’ sparks fly and artisans crafting candles. A horse-drawn carriage ride through Sovereign Hill’s streets, and interestingly, an actor there hailed from York, of all places, reminding me that you can’t escape northerners, even in the deep Aussie country.


But that’s not all; I also reunited with one of my long-lost school pals, Annie-Mae, who has moved down the road from us in this sprawling city! Our little trio with Niamh has spent weekends at the zoo and picnics in the park, and now we’re planning a trip for when our visas run out. We all took a day trip to Brighton Beach, just a quick train ride south, Melbourne’s most renowned seaside destination. It’s celebrated for its remarkable lineup of rainbow-hued bathing boxes that line the shore like a row of bright crayons. Although it was a cold and windy day, we still made use of the day, and I can still picture Annie attempting to cartwheel across the sands.

I also stumbled upon Melbourne’s hidden gem—the Fairfield Boathouse—where I hopped in a rowboat and embarked on a expedition along the Yarra River. It was a retreat from city life, a rendezvous with nature, and the perfect excuse to work off my last round of fish and chips. Even if I only did five minutes of rowing…

Now, let’s talk about a chippy tea because, for those of us from the UK, there’s something incredibly comforting about traditional British cuisine. The ‘chippy’ back in the UK unites our community over deep-fried fish and potato goodness. However, for those who have been craving the nostalgic flavors of home, the choices have, until recently, been rather limited. That is until you come across Northern Soul chip shop in St Kilda, a seaside suburb where I lived for several weeks at the beginning of the Australian adventure.

The entire menu pays tribute to iconic soul music venues of the 70s – such as the ‘Wigan Casino,’ their signature dish featuring battered hake, served alongside hand-cut fried chips, tartar sauce, and mushy peas. Then there’s the ‘Northern Quarter,’ a pie and chips combo with your choice of side from curry sauce to gravy! I chose the ‘The Blackpool Tower,’ a delectable fish finger sandwich accompanied by slaw, chips, Sriracha, and tartar sauce. It was a taste of British grub nostalgia that hit all the right notes.

I recently also had the misfortune of trying a Sunday roast at a British-themed pub. Usually, I would have one every Sunday back at home with the family, so it’s safe to say I was missing them – the roasties and my family of course! I’m all about embracing a taste of home when you’re far away, but this experience was like a comedy of errors. The roast seemed to have taken a dip in the chilly English Channel, no parsnips, no pigs in blankets, the tiniest jug of gravy you ever did see and a poorly made Yorkshire pud. Let’s just say if I wanted a taste of a British winter again, I got it – on a plate. Nothing beats a homemade Sunday roast!

Last week marked a whole year since my double mastectomy and reconstruction, and I’m embracing life more than ever and grateful for the journey that has brought me here. So, as the sunsets paint the sky in fiery hues, I can’t help but raise a glass filled with SPF 50 to the countless laughs, tears, and memories brought my way in my Oz odyssey. For now, I bid farewell, as more uncharted territories and mishaps are awaiting me in this colossal country!

NorthernLife Nov/Dec 23