We are obsessed with travel. Over the past decade, Australians have doubled the amount of overseas travel they do annually, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics. It seems we can’t wait to pull out our passport and hit the road.
Travel writing is a natural partner to our expanding horizons. Saturday afternoon’s entertaining session, chaired by Wheeler Centre director, Michael Williamsin the Southern Cross University marquee, went – as panellist Brigid Delaney noted – wide and deep. As all good travel writing should.
The road travelled was wide: Eddie Ayres has written about his cycling trip from England to Hong Kong (with a violin on board) in Cadence and his more recent experience in Afghanistan in Danger Music; Kari Gislason’s works The Promise of Iceland and Saga Land are informed by his childhood homeland; and Delaney has spent 15 years travelling the globe and writing as a journalist and author about her experiences.
The road travelled was deep: Gislason describes his impulse to travel as being driven by the idea that ‘there’s some sort of answer at the end of a journey’ that can’t be found here. Take, for example, this intriguing travel story he shared.
Deeply impacted as a young man by the writings of Dag Hammarskjöld, he travelled to the Swedish economist and diplomat’s birthplace in Sweden, and was then drawn to Zambia and the plane crash site where Hammarskjöld died. While in the vicinity of the crash site, Gislason had a chance encounter with the man who found Hammarskjöld’s body. The experience had a profound impact on Gislason, and he now remains open to following those unanticipated paths that arise.
Ayres went to Afghanistan to teach music in Kabul. At the time he was female-bodied, but aware that he was transgender. Against the backdrop of war, Ayres realised that his gender was ‘not something I could run from’ and that he ‘needed to do something about the gender transition’.
Delaney has witnessed the slide of travel journalism into the realms of public relations concurrently with the decline of print media. She is interested in the broader cultural influences of travel shifts and trends, and her 2009 book This Restless Life addresses the impact of hyper-mobility on a generation cutting their teeth in a global economy.
And the road travelled was riotously shallow: from a rock-and-roll themed cruise ship with the real Leo Sayer performing on board, to a discussion on the etiquette in male and female toilets, to the session’s enduring question, ‘Would you eat the rat shit?’
In an age of mass tourism, the panel unanimously agreed that the opportunity for ‘authentic’ travel exists for those who seek it and take the time to be immersed in a place. And, in a reminder that travel can also be near or far, Delaney observed, ‘I think Australia is vastly under-rated. And a lot of Australia needs the tourism’.
Rebecca Sargeant is a Southern Cross University Creative Writing student.