Friday, 14 October 2016

Why I Travel (With Thanks to Ned Kelly)

This piece about my motivations for travel was commissioned by a magazine in 2014, but never published for space reasons. Here it is at last, for your enjoyment...

I travel to connect the dots.

I’ve always been fascinated by history – I even gained a degree in it from the University of Western Australia – but I don’t want to only learn about it through books.

There’s nothing I like more than actually visiting the place where a great historic event took place, something that people still talk about today.

Even better is to link together a number of places connected to a famous person or happening, and step in the footprints of those who were there at the time.

One of my favourite journeys was a retracing of the life of Ned Kelly, the notorious bushranger whose gang robbed banks and fought police in northeastern Victoria in the late 19th century.

Whether they think he’s a hero or a villain, everyone knows about Ned’s famous showdown at Glenrowan, when he confronted police in the dawn light in a home-made suit of armour.

But not many know about the green sash he was awarded at the age of 11 when he saved a drowning child from a river in Avenel. Exploits from his short but eventful life are scattered all along the signposted Ned Kelly Touring Route.

I went one better in 2011 when I visited the tiny town of Moyglass, two hours from Dublin, Ireland in County Tipperary. Nowadays the village is basically just a cemetery and a pub, but what a pub.

The Ned Kelly Village Inn is festooned with Kelly memorabilia, and for a very good reason. In 1840 Ned Kelly’s dad, John Kelly, was working as a farm labourer here and stole two pigs.

Caught, he was sentenced to transportation to Australia, thus starting the journey that would lead to Ned and his dramatic fate. I felt pleased and privileged to have been to both ends of the tale.

On other trips I’ve linked together such major events as the sinking of the SS Titanic, visiting the Belfast shipyards where it was built, and later the cemetery in Halifax, Canada where many of its tragic victims lie.

I’ve visited Roman ruins stretching from England to Egypt, via Italy and Hungary and, of course, Rome. I’ve wondered at strange architectural relics of Eastern Europe’s communist era, from Poland to Slovenia.

And I’ve been to all three corners of the so-called Polynesian Triangle, Hawaii, New Zealand and Easter Island, amazed at the ancient Polynesians' navigational skills.

Once I’ve been there, it’s not just dusty old history to me. It’s a story, of real people and their lives.

Why do you travel? Feel free to comment below.