Anne here, pondering about how this world of ours is shrinking. Quite a few of my friends are heading overseas at the moment — some are already there, some have recently returned home, one is on a plane as we speak, and plenty more are preparing to go in the next few weeks. And they're not short journeys, either — in every case their destination is the other side of the world, changing hemispheres and seasons, as well as countries.
When I was a kid, the world was an enormous, unknowable place, and not only because I was a child, with a child's perspective. It was full of pockets of mystery. Timbuktoo was more or less a place of myth, a storybook place somewhere in the far, far beyond. Now several of my friends have been there. I have the postcards to prove it.
My parents loved to travel. Mum grew up devouring Richard Halliburton books — he was an American traveler — a real adventurer — and he wrote books about the places he visited. She went on to collect the travel books of H. V. Morton, and later Bill Bryson's. Dad caught the travel bug from his time in the army, and the moment my parents got the opportunity, they carted us first around this country, and later overseas.
When I was eight we went to Scotland for a year. We traveled to the UK by ship because Dad had a friend who was a manager of an Italian shipping line and he got us cheap tickets. It was still cheaper than air travel for a family. It took us a month to get to the UK.
In the 1800's it took between 6 months and a year to get from the UK to Australia. It was a huge journey, and a giant act of courage, not only because traveling by ship was dangerous — I was born in a part of Australia called the shipwreck coast — but with the distance, the time, the cost, they might as well have been going to live on the moon. Certainly most of them could never go home again.
This 1868 painting, by Australian artist Tom Roberts, is called Coming South and it gives a hint, I think, of the magnitude of the journey these people were undertaking, leaving all they knew behind them.
It's hard for us these days to understand how that must have felt. We can get on a plane for the UK or Italy and be there in a few hours — from Australia it's 20-something hours. It's quite hard, I think, for people today to understand how it must have felt when people left Europe to make a life in the New World, or crossed the continent by wagon, or by foot. It's even hard to imagine the difficulties people encountered making a journey from England to Scotland, and how most people rarely traveled more than a few miles from their birthplace.
Something of this was brought home to me in an emotional, visceral sense when I was a child. We were returning to Australia, again by ship. This was during a wave of migration to Australia from Italy, and though the ship had been half empty when we travelled to Europe, and almost empty when we left Southampton, when we got to Naples and Genoa, hundreds of people boarded, migrating to Australia.
I still remember standing squashed against the crowded ship's rail, with every Italian on board pressed against it, desperately drinking in their last sight of family and friends, of their homeland, calling out last minute messages, and throwing streamers.
Hundreds of brightly colored paper streamers flowed from the ship to the wharf, and oh, the heartbreak as the ship pulled away from the pier, with people weeping and weeping and the whole crowd swaying back and forth, singing "Arrivaderci Roma." And the grief as one by one the streamers broke. And how people stood, staring and silent until finally, no land could be sighted, and they turned, weeping, to seek their cabins.
To this day the memory gives me goosebumps and brings tears to my eyes. Such courage to leave everything and everyone they knew and loved, to cross the world in the hope of a better, new life. Not one person on that ship or that wharf thought they'd ever see their family or their homeland again.
But the world shrank. And many of those people have since returned — often — to visit, sometimes to bring their parents over to see the new life they've built, and to take the grandchildren back to the old country to meet their relatives and see where their family came from.
Distances are different today. We routinely cross the world, and nobody travels by ship, unless it's to take a leisure cruise. We phone and we email and we skype and the distance feels like nothing. The only thing that holds us back from traveling these days is time and money.
So what's the biggest journey you've taken—not necessarily the biggest in terms of distance, but the most momentous or emotional. And is there anywhere you itch to travel to?