A Tourist in Your Own Town
Thoughts by Nicole Langridge
I started travelling down to Wollongong from my home suburb back in 2012 when I enrolled as a student at UOW. Before then, I don't think I'd really been there at all. It was a place I knew of but had never experienced. For four years I caught buses and trains between my house and the university. And for the first year or so, I probably never stepped foot near the harbour or beyond the university really. But once I did, I started to realise just how beautiful Wollongong was. I recall one morning I found myself sat near the harbour with a cup of tea and yoghurt from Levendi cafe thinking I'd love to live here one day.
But the funny thing is: the more time we spend in a location, the more familiar it all becomes to us and sometimes we lose the initial splendour we felt. We spend so much time desiring to see famous landmarks in other countries that we forget we have our own landmarks here. They're not just the big ones, the ones advertised in travel magazines or websites, they're murals in alleyways, or the view from atop a mountain you climbed instead of driving up.
I recently had the pleasure of introducing Wollongong to an international friend. Coming from England, he hadn't had very much experience with beaches. Or sun. Wollongong was going to be perfect for him! But I was very excited to show off a place that was very dear to my heart.
The University was of course on our agenda and we somehow managed to time our visit on O-Day. The campus was streaming with new and old students, the paths around McKinnon lawn lined with club stalls, and there was a definite chilled vibe about the place. As my friend and I sat on the lawn with a coffee to enjoy a bit of music, he told me it was a very different experience to his own university in the UK. With there not being very much sun and a constant threat of rain, their stalls were crammed into the uni hall and there wasn't the same energy about it as Wollongong; weather impacts things more than we realise. For me, a sunny afternoon on the lawn with a book was normal. But suddenly I was realising just how much I should appreciate those afternoons.
We caught the free bus (another novelty for my friend) over to North Wollongong and hopped off near the Novotel to enjoy a walk along the beach. We were incredibly lucky to have such a beautiful day free of any wind or rain and ventured out onto the harbour-side breakwater for a unique view of the beach. I asked him what he thought of Wollongong now that he was here. By now we had visited a few beach towns on an Aussie road trip, but he said it was the junction of coastal and city landscapes that stood out the most in Wollongong. I'd never much thought about it myself, but it's very true. Going from one extreme of everyday streets as we drove through Fairy Meadow to be suddenly met with the water's edge and sand once we hit the harbour is certainly something. You could wander around the heart of Wollongong and never know there was an ocean laid out just beyond the tall buildings.
We found a spot free of seagulls on the sand to enjoy a milkshake and some Turkish delight. It was again one of those moments I was reminded of my luckiness to call such a place a home of sorts. For four years, I could have done this any time I wished but hadn't. It took a friend from the other side of the world to remind me of the chance this place could offer me; to take pleasure in the smallest of acts.
Sometimes we need to be tourists in our own town. We need to stop looking at the streets like we know them and take a step back to see them the way we did the very first time. Learn to appreciate them all over again.
(All photos are courtesy of my lovely friend, Carl)
Written by SCWC
Posted on August 03, 2016