Right first time. Dieter Bott, 62, was on his annual holiday to Australia. He’s been coming every summer since 1989 to windsurf on the West Australian coast, except for one year when he went east.
For the last 10 years his vivacious wife Leila has accompanied him as he hops on his board and hoists his sail anywhere between Esperance and Exmouth.
He’s tried Geraldton before. It is proclaimed to be the wind surfing capital of the world and embraces its windy status in its slogan: “You will be blown away by Geraldton”.
Dieter wasn’t planning to hit the water on this stop in Geraldton. He and Leila (right) were heading for Gnarloo Station, which he reckoned has the best wind surfing conditions in the world.
Tony and I have been shaking our heads at the numbers of older couples from Europe cruising around north and western Australia, revelling in heat and isolation while the folks back in Munich and Geneva endure freezing rain, short dark days, packed snow and packed streets.
Europeans seem to love Australia more than the Aussies who cower in cities, rarely exploring the great unpopulated regions of our land, in summer cringing off to cooler climate belts.
Not so these hardy European couples – from young backpackers to grandparents – who ignore the dust, flies and swelter. They soak up the freedom, solitude, wildlife and stunning landscapes with an appreciation that evokes the spirit of the European pioneers who learned to live in and love the wide brown land.
Escaping the European winters, they hit the road between Perth and Darwin in our summer months when the Grey Nomads have moved south, adding to the luxury of lack of crowding. We are often astounded by the visitors’ knowledge of Australian highways, byways and wildlife. They are astounded by our welfare system.
Leila, a Croatian who has lived in Germany for 30 years, explains in her interestingly accented English that people in Australia are friendlier: “No stress here. Back home, rush, rush and no time, no time.”
Dieter agreed but said he was starting to notice changes. “People get busier and busier every year in Perth.”
He has an accident investigation business back home and has it set up now so he can take extended annual holidays. He and Leila are here for three months this summer, exploring and enjoying the land and coast in a way few Australians bother to do.
We meandered out west because the long Western Australian coast was becoming too crowded in high summer. We were delighted to discover the wheatbelt towns.
In little Mukinbudin we found Jessica and Goran Henryson (below) admiring the cheap, high-quality facilities at the caravan park and the sparkling Olympic swimming pool complex next door.
German, Swiss of French? The Henrysons were from Sweden. Goran was a retired industrialist and Jessica an engineer working in public relations as a lobbyist for renewable energy.
Jessica asked if she had mis-read that the population of Mukinbudin was only 400. The amenities were so excellent. We explained that the Royalties for the Regions program and Lottery West had done much to spread some of the heady WA wealth into the regional areas. (Queensland could take a leaf from Perth balance books: precious little public revenue comes out of Brisbane despite the mining rake-offs in the eastern state.)
The Henrysons were on their fifth visit to Australia, driving up into the hot, dry northern wheatbelt summer because rain was forecast in the south. They were escaping rain. They wanted hot days, grand scenery and friendly bush people.
For the first time their Australian visit wasn’t including Coober Pedy, the little town under the ground in the South Australian desert. They had had fun hunting for opals there and had made many friends. Coober Pedy was a real frontier town, said Jessica, but said sadly it was starting to develop a little too much.
“They have footpaths being built there,” she said a little indignantly.
Europeans flock to Australia to escape oppressive cold, crowding and civilisation. At this time of the year on the Darwin-Perth stretch the sturdy Scandinavians and Saxons outnumber Aussies, who cling to city comfort, coasts and coolness. Our pioneering spirit, forged in Europe, seems to have been dimmed by soft conditions in the too-lucky country.