I sit on the grass, knees pulled up against my chest. Behind me is the little shack I’ve been calling home. Before me is my dear friend’s house. I can see our children playing together through the open doors. I feel a lot of emotions, I don’t have words for all of them.
We walk down to the beach one final time. It’s almost unbearable because I know it’s a goodbye and I’d rather do nothing than have some beautiful last adventure together.
The kids jump from rock to rock. Alba calls them her siblings and right now they are. The children follow Bee like puppies. He makes sandcastles with them, gives them rides on his shoulders and teaches them how to build cairns out of rocks. Whenever Georgia talks to me I want to run away, the weight in these last conversations is too heavy, even when the words are light.
The sun sets pinks and blues and purples as we walk home. A truck comes to pick up the rest of our things. The shack is empty and the car is packed for a great adventure.
It’s difficult to leave, but this is the next step forward. I feel it in that quiet place inside that shows me the way. Perhaps we needed to move all the way across the country just to recognise it wasn’t home, at least not now. Maybe if we hadn’t, I’d have spent years longing and wondering.
In Brisbane we stay with a friend in a house full of rescue cats. I’m working this trip. I shoot portraits of strangers in forests, on beaches, in botanical gardens. It’s a humbling job to capture other’s love because love is all that really matters.
On the road my anxiety loosens its grip. Life becomes about simple things. Boiling water for tea. Choosing albums to play on the long drives. Finding bathrooms and petrol stations. Stumbling on places to pitch our tent and grocery stores that sell rice milk. Watching the landscape slowly change.
In Sydney we stay with Laura, my red-haired fiercely passionate filmmaking friend whose heart was recently shattered. She tells me she’s seeing Lorde play and I want to go badly, we’ve been listening to her album so often this trip. But there’s no way to buy tickets. I know Lorde follows my instagram so I message her there.
She gets us tickets for the show and tells me she’s been reading my blog since Alba was born. What a bewildering feeling. Such a simple act, writing and sharing my life here, that has opened all these doors with all kinds of wonderful people waiting behind them.
We wait on the Opera house steps, Alba singing Lorde songs under her breath. This a big moment for her. She’s never been to a concert before. The sun is setting in this glorious way and it’s enough to catch my breath. It is hard to believe the world around us is real, that we haven’t just stepped into a novel. I like those moments in life.
We catch a speedboat with people from the record label over to Cockatoo Island. The world outside is dark now, the lights burn like fire from the city we leave behind. I talk to Alba about dreams.
This island was once a prison. We walk through the old tunnels with hundreds of strangers, Alba swinging between us, the only child around. In the audience she sits on Bee’s shoulders so she can see. Her eyes are wide and she looks so serious that I ask her if she’s having fun. She looks down at me and she grins.
I dance with Laura to these songs that encapsulate heartbreak and we feel it because we’ve felt it. When Lorde leaves the stage, I realise she never sung Alba’s favourite song and I hold Alba’s hand and I tell her I’m sorry she didn’t hear it this time. The crowd is loud. Screaming and whistling for an encore. And on she comes, beautiful Ella in a sparkling dress all alone, to sing Alba’s favourite.
I hold Alba high in my arms this time and as we both sing along I cry a little at her joy, which is always mine too.
I take Alba to the Blue Mountains, the place where I brought her into the world. We visit the rock at the end of our old street that overlooks the mountains, painted blue by the oil in the air from the eucalyptus trees. It’s still so peaceful.
We visit our old home for the first time since we left. I stand on those steps for a long time lost in memories. I didn’t really think about coming here, didn’t think about the old bruises this place would press. When Alba tries to talk to me I can’t find words to respond so Bee distracts her with a game.
I remember walking up these stairs so many times; the day I discovered I was pregnant and later with a heavy belly and then with a tiny newborn. I hurt for that girl. I hurt for that time. If you’d asked me then if I was happy I’d have told you yes. I thought that time was so pure and perfect. I imagined I’d spend a lifetime longing for it. But I don’t. All I was blind to then has become painfully clear since. Standing here now I see everything I didn’t see.
I feel a thousand miles away from that girl now. As though she is a friend I used to know. I feel sad but I also feel proud. I alone walked those thousand miles and it wasn’t always easy.
It feels strange to peel myself away from that place, that other world I once knew. Alba is happy to have seen the place she was born, and I am happy for her so I leave those strange feelings behind in the mountains.
Alba is content while we travel. We all are. Our little family was made for adventures. The absence of my anxiety becomes so ordinary I forget I ever have it. We stay in all kinds of places. On cliffs that violently fall away to the ocean. In fields where sheep and kangaroo graze. By the sides of busy highways.
It’s the middle of winter and the world is numbingly cold. Bee often fights icy wind and rain to pitch our tent, telling us to stay warm in the car. It’s one of my favourite traits of his, the way he always puts us first.
When the tent is up and the bed made, Bee carries Alba inside and I crawl in with them both. We weren’t prepared enough for this winter but we keep each other warm beneath the blankets. It feels like a safe space. The wind can howl and the birds can cry and the rain can beat in patterns on the roof, but we are safe in here, together.
Camping is often grimy. Sometimes we brush our teeth in petrol station bathrooms and wear dirty clothes and wash our faces with baby wipes and pee behind bushes. But there is something nice in not caring about these things.
Alba falls sick with a flu. She’s weak and fevery. When I lift her she feels like a doll in my arms. We drive on to my niece’s home in the hills, where there is a room all set up for us. Candles lit, warm cosy blankets, home cooked food. I love this about my family, they always have space for us.
I tuck her in, rub peppermint balm on her tiny chest and place a cool wet cloth on her forehead. She is still my baby.
I hardly sleep that night. She seems so fragile. There’s a saying that a child is your heart outside of your body and I feel that very literally. Like she is a vital organ that has been removed from me and somehow I am still functioning, so long as she is.
When morning comes she feels better. The great weight is lifted. She plays with the dogs in the sunshine and collects chicken eggs with my niece. Then the flu hits Bee and I, and it is ugly.
I feel so sick I want to cry out of the pain and the frustration and the inability to move or speak or eat. It’s so easy to forget how terrible it feels to be really sick when you’re healthy. Bee and I lay beside each other burning hot and cold. In the moments I can think I am grateful for the hand in mine, belonging to the kind boy suffering alongside me.
The sickness lingers on but we have to move, I have to shoot in Melbourne. We stop by a pharmacy, walking the aisles like zombies. We buy flu tablets, those little magic pills that make us forget how sick we really are so we can keep on going.
At the beginning of that first shoot I hold the camera in my hands and feel confused. It is as though my ability to take photographs is a switch that has been switched off by my sickness.
I look through the viewfinder unsure of what I’m supposed to do, unsure of the directions I’m supposed to give. I panic. I point to a spot on the far side of the beach and say we should begin there. As I walk it all rushes back. Little switch back on.
The flu passes. I meet my friend Beau Taplin at a cafe where he tells me he’s just signed a book contract with Harper Collins. He’s always inspired me, this boy who writes poetry from his bedroom. He mentions the books I’ll one day write as though they’re already here, waiting patiently for me to write them.
We stay with a family. Their little girl is getting better after being sick. I worry a little, but it seems okay. A few days later Alba falls asleep in my arms at dinner. It’s strange. We wonder if she’s sick, but decide surely not, what terrible luck it would be to get sick again.
She is sick again. As we make our way to the bottom of Australia I hold a bag beneath her as she vomits in the car. It’s gastro. It’s messy and heartbreaking and we just want to get to Adelaide quickly so we can get her into a clean bed and clean clothes.
We drive along the Great Ocean Road. To our left is wild blue seas and to our right is jagged rock. We pass tiny towns and great expanses of nothingness. Tumbleweeds roll over the long empty roads like we’re caught in some cheesy western film.
In Adelaide I shoot while Bee stays home taking care of Alba. We make her a bed on the couch so she can watch television and suck on electrolyte icy poles. Just like my mum did when I was a kid. I wash everything. Twice. Other than to work I never leave that house and Alba’s side. Not even to go to the vegan bakery with the amazing donuts.
It’s time to leave. It’s still a long way to Perth. This new sickness catches up to me first. There are never enough roadside bathrooms. When we stop I come and go from the tent into the freezing cold all night long. There are no toilets around, just cold bare dirt. I lay in the tent in the dark wishing for a real bed and Bee asks how I am going and I just cry that I want to sleep.
I curl up in the car the next day, my stomach furiously rumbling and nausea waiting impatiently below the surface. We watch the dirt turn from brown to red. We see all kinds of roadkill, mostly kangaroos but once a wild camel.
I’m always staring out of the car window. One moment it’s blue skies and desert trees and the next an enormous rock comes into view, like a small red mountain. It reminds me of Uluru and it’s so magnificent my heart stops. Bee tells us we are staying here tonight.
I am shaky when I stand but I walk slowly over and press my palms up against the rock. I think of my indigenous ancestors, what did they make of this? I think it holds powerful magic.
I watch from the window of the tent as my family climb over it and disappear from sight. I read Harry Potter for the seventh time. They return to light a bonfire and cook pasta. I listen to the way their laughter bounces off the rock walls.
The next morning I gather all of my energy to climb it. There are clear pools of water on the top. I sit and slide my hands and feet into the water. It’s shockingly cold. Alba asks, “What are you doing Mama?” And I tell her that I think this rock has healing powers. So she names it Healing Rock.
There’s still a way to go but now Bee is sick and all we can think of is arriving. We want to drive through the night and make it by morning but Bee can’t keep going. We pull into a motel.
It’s just a middle of nowhere motel with a broken heater, mismatched artwork and an old television. But my goodness it is glorious. To have a clean bed. To have a hot shower. To have a real toilet. We could be staying in a 5 star resort in the Bahamas. We scrub the grime from our nails, wash our hair until it’s silky and crawl naked into clean sheets. It is heaven.
The next day we just drive. We drive until the bare dirt turns into fields and the fields into houses and the houses into a city, our city. How strange it is to see our baby blue honda on the west coast, all the way across this giant island.
Bee’s mother is waiting with open arms. When we broke up she told me she had a dream that felt like a premonition. She dreamt she’d visited us in Fremantle, I had a baby on my hip and we were happy. Now here we are, just like that, looking for a home in Fremantle. Feeling like we’ve been on the road for a lifetime. Ready to be home.