Before my departure from Aus, you could say my experience travelling was limited. Sure, I had done plenty of camping, and weekend trips in my small SUV to the beautiful coastal towns of Northern New South Wales. Occasionally, heading a few hours North, or West, to rural dams to water-ski and swim. But, as far as aeroplane travel goes, my experience was limited. Only departing our great land twice in my life, when I was a child. Even my domestic travels via aircraft were countable on one hand. So, I guess there was still some magic left in the prospect of travelling in an aeroplane – a mild level of excitement.
Some of it having a basis in the anticipation of the unfamiliar, and “exotic” destinations. And, some of it based on the prospect of getting on a plane, and travelling thousands of kilometres at a time. Although, this magic quickly fades away, and it all becomes as monotonous as the trip from Queensland, to New South Wales. Another plane, another train; another cold runway, and another considerably lengthy walk wheeling that heavy bag behind you. Travelling is a blight upon your soul, only relieved when you no longer have that fucking suitcase with you, and you can take off your boots, and have a drink.
I was walking down another street late at night with my suitcase wheeling behind me. I had departed from my travel acquaintances, and was on my own for the first time in twelve days. I was trying to find my accommodation, located a fourteen-minute walk from the train station, per google maps. The host was not going to be home, and I was to locate the apartment with a dying phone. Once I found the location, I was to unlock a “key-safe”, and let myself into the room.
As I walked down the streets, I pondered if this will be the first of many errors, I would encounter throughout my time abroad. Arriving late in the evening to an Airbnb with no host, in an area that looks scary, and unfamiliar. Those “low socio economic areas” which I had spotted from the train on the way in from Heathrow, looked a treat in comparison to the streets I was walking down now. Regardless, I powered on; found the room, and let myself in. Much to my surprise, and delight I was not greeted with rodent infestation, and filth. But, rather an ex-government house that had been well-maintained, and cleaned. My room was small, but there was heating, and hot water, and my bed had clean sheets.
East London, my new home to be. The first morning, when I walked down Commercial Road, I wasn’t too sure what to expect. I was in Stepney Green, heading towards White Chapel, to the bank. I walked out of my flat, and down the main stretch. The streets were dirty, but not far off looking akin to inner city Logan. Small businesses lined the road, with a obvious reoccurring theme to the shops, and the residents out in the local area.
It quickly became clear, this area had a high Islamic population. People from middle-eastern backgrounds outnumbered the white folk, twenty to one. Hijabs, Niqabs, and children holding their mother’s hands drawn out from under their gowns, seeing to their morning routine. Just like any other day on this city stretch. And, there I was an Australian boy, who had just left a country which had legitimised Islamophobia, with the election of Pauline Hanson, to the senate, in July of last year. Her election representing a national xenophobia, and hysterical fear of Islam, as she preached along the campaign trail for a royal commission into the religion, to be undertaken. Also, calling for a migration ban that mimicked Trump’s failed one, to be implemented to keep our country “safe”.
What would happen, if they were to know which country I represented, and what discussions had taken place on the national broadcaster the night before? What a young, and proud activist like Yassmin Abdel-Magied, had endured in the public eye. Having to defend her right to religious freedom, and to practice her beliefs to backward elected bogans like Jacqui Lambie? Would they deliver the same disrespect as some previous co-workers of mine, should I waltz into their workplace easily identifiable – say if, I walked around with the Australian flag on display? Would I be met with dirty stares, and the subject of backroom discussions, questioning why I choose to alienate myself with my obscure appearance? If only, you could round-up the caucus of One Nation supporters, and conservatives who spewed fear and irrational intolerance back home, and drop them on this city stretch with me.