Australia: Unworry, Be Happy

After touching down in Brisbane, Bowman Leigh gets her first lesson in Australian culture.

My first piece of Australian wisdom came in an 80-degree parking lot in early February.

Sticking to my seat aboard a worn-in manual transmission bus soon to be known as “Little Blue,” I was mid-eavesdrop on a conversation between Peter, my academic director, and our bus-driver, Dave. Apparently, something was wrong with our parking spot.

Along with sixteen other students, I had just been greeted by Peter and Dave at Brisbane Airport and welcomed to Australia, officially beginning my semester abroad. After fourteen hours in the air with no sleeping aid and a squad of overly chipper Aussie stewards, I was eager to get away from anything remotely plane-like and embark on a real adventure.

The people around me seemed the feel the same way. Barely two minutes after offloading our hefty bags into the bus’s trailer, cameras were already out and clicking, as if to make up for the Thursday that, according to Qantas, had evaporated somewhere over the Pacific. But Dave and Peter continued to sit there, confused not only by the parking lot’s lack of exits but our legal right to have parked there in the first place. Listening intently from my seat in the front row, I sensed a split-second moment of concern between them before Dave shrugged, threw Little Blue into reverse, and plowed the bus out the one-way entrance, our cumbersome luggage trailer bouncing behind. Turning to Dave with a smile as he swerved toward the nearest roundabout, Peter (our guide for the next four months) chuckled.

“You know,” he said, “we might get a huge fine for that or something.”

Peering from behind a pair of oversized shades (little did we know, they would soon become his trademark), Dave’s nonchalant answer said it all: “Yeah, I guess we might.”

The moment passed without much notice. Except to those seated up front, the confusion (and hilariousness) of our leaders’ parking lot problem-solving floated away on the Australian breeze.

For me, though, Australia’s first lesson was clear: just relax.

Suddenly, everything I saw out my window relayed a message of calm. Street signs, in particular, matched my interpretation of the parking lot scene. In black all-caps, a billboard for the city of Brisbane simply said, unworry, and what I recognized as American yield signs instead instructed drivers to just give way. Was Australia trying to tell me something? Appropriately, some easy-going melodies followed, as Peter switched on an all-Australian mix CD to start acclimating our ears before settling back against the cracked vinyl of his captain’s chair, Hawaiian shirt flapping lightly in the breeze. I felt the backpack-pains in my shoulders release a little and we puttered away.

I think I’m going to like it here.

Bowman Leigh hails from Portland, OR but is currently in Australia studying sustainability. Talents include a knack for public embarrassment, fig-tree climbing, and obsessive cleaning, but her passion is in perfecting "bush-dance" moves.