Dreaming Australian

By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   February 22, 2018

In 1972 – about half our lifetimes ago – Dorothy and I traveled to Australia, our first of many visits, but the only one by sea.

The Australian Aborigines call their distant past the “Dream-Time.” On this journey, I carried my own enduring dream. Since school-days, I’d retained in my mind a map showing the comparatively few areas of the world that enjoy a “Mediterranean” type of climate – which has always appealed to me, with its general mildness, plentiful sunshine, and rain-free summers. 

One of these areas was, of course, in California, my home since 1955. But there was another such region, almost exactly opposite on the globe – part of the west coast of Australia. My dream was to go there and buy some land, and make it a sort of second home. Having reversed seasons naturally increased the appeal. When it was winter here, we could go and enjoy a second summer there.

At the time of planning the trip, we were living in London, establishing a branch of our then-flourishing business based on my illustrated epigrams. So, how to go to Australia? I’d never liked big airplanes, and we both enjoyed sea travel. The Suez Canal had been closed since 1967 – but you could sail east by liner from England, around the Cape of Good Hope. That’s how we went, on a Greek ship called the Britannis, disembarking in October 1972 at Perth, the only sizeable urban area in the whole of Western Australia.

It’s an interesting commentary on the terrible isolation of that area from the rest of the world, and even from the rest of Australia, that one of the first substantial buildings erected there by the early settlers was a Lunatic Asylum.

Of course, things had much changed. (That sylum was now an “Arts Center.”) But, after exploring the heavily populated area around Perth, we decided to look further afield. We bought a Volkswagen camper, of the type that was popular in those days. One of the vehicles we looked at, but didn’t buy, was owned by a middle-aged local couple who had had their own plans of driving around the country in it, but through some personal misfortunes, were now obliged to sell the vehicle. I’ll always remember one thing they said sadly: “It was our dream.”

Still pursuing our own dream, we ventured as far as the South Coast, some five hours’ drive from Perth. In that relatively unknown corner of the continent, near the small town of Albany, we discovered a 72-acre property – still mostly undeveloped, with no buildings on it. The price was more than we’d intended to pay, and we had to send home for more money. But the location and the views, overlooking the Southern Ocean, and the remoteness, plus the fact that water was abundant (which is often not true in those parts) and that the climate was even more equable than that of Perth, made us feel that this had to be it.

So, we bought it. But, after five months in Australia, Dorothy was suffering from homesickness. We sped east on the famous “Indian-Pacific” train, and then, in March 1973, flew back to California. 

Now, more than 40 years later, we still own the best part of that property (after selling some off) but have made only a few brief return visits, and have never done anything with it, except pay taxes, and allow a neighboring farmer to graze his cattle there, under an arrangement called an “agistment.” Over the years, we’ve had many ideas – building a house, starting a school, or (my own favorite) erecting a tower, to make the most of the spectacular views. But they’ve all remained just dreams.

In the meantime, we’ve visited many other parts of Australia, including the Island-State of Tasmania – on the opposite side of the country from our property – which has its own appealing remoteness. We’ve even done the fabled rail journey from south to north coasts across the “dead heart” of the country. But we never bought any other land.

Now we’re old, and our dreams have died – or are waiting for other people to come along, pick them up, and dust them off. The property is certainly still there – 36 beautiful acres on a place called Torbay Hill – and we’ve finally put it on the market – but not at a bargain figure. After all, it’s hard to put any price at all on a dream.  


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