Belfast Telegraph

How we could all have a wonderful life... with a little imagination

By Nuala McKeever

You've gotta love a country where they put signs on the roadside advertising, 'Horse Poo – $2'. And where, when you go into a shop or a cafe, the people look as if they're from Larne or the middle of Andytown but when they open their mouths, it's all "G'day! How're you goin?" and big smiles.

And where, when you get up at 2.30am for your first middle of the night cup of tea 'cos the jetlag's still got you on a different body clock, the first thing you do is count how many more mozzie bites you've got since you went to bed covered in mosquito repellent and bite-relief cream and after-sun spray.

And then there's the beaches. Miles of tropical surf and sand with about three people on them when they're quiet and about 10 when they're busy. Like Donegal only with heat and bodies that don't look like they've been dipped in white emulsion.

And the shops. Even the chemist shops sell fancy goods that we'd have on display in an art gallery back home. The boutiques are full of funky clothes that I just KNOW will look fine when I get home and will not be the Australian equivalent of arriving back from Spain with a sombrero on my head.

I'm currently near Byron Bay, which is a mecca for the young, gorgeous, hippy types. So it's camper van central and even the small supermarkets have a range of vegetarian and interesting foods that we'd struggle to find in Tesco or Sainsburys.

Spoilt spoilt spoilt! It's so nice to be spoilt! So great to indulge the senses with pleasure. So refreshing to be here, in the real world. We usually refer to the gloomy life back home as 'the real world'. We talk of leaving our glorious holiday selves to return to 'real life'.

But I think we've got it back to front. Maybe 'cos I'm in this part of the world which is upside down from home, but I reckon THIS is how life really is and it's our narrow, dour, northern, miserable self-obsessed perspective that is the aberration.

Northern Ireland and its concerns – yes, they matter to anyone living in Northern Ireland, but they're not the whole picture by any manner of means.

And yes, I know Australia or Spain or the Maldives, or anywhere you might consider more glamorous than home, has its problems. I'm not suggesting this is trouble-free and we're the only people who make a mess of running our society.

But holy moly, there's something to be said for getting out of the way we do it and being challenged to do it differently. To be exposed to something you didn't know existed and you didn't even know you didn't know.

I read a Community Relations Council report online that says there's a prediction of a return to even more violence at home if we don't address some of our underlying issues, in particular the under-education of working class Protestant boys.

Of course there is! Every baby born has huge potential. If it grows up starved of imagination, of course it will behave in abberrant ways. Violence isn't what we're born for. Peaceful interaction is what works the world over. In nature and in humans. We all need our horizons broadened by travel, either literal or educational. Imagination is the passport to contentment.

But how will we vote for a wonderful life if we can't even imagine it? It's up to us who have had the privilege of benefiting from imagination, to make sure it's cultivated in everyone.

Do nothing and get things done

  Quiet is very underrated. Just doing nothing. Just sitting. Just being, not doing. Not even thinking anything through. Just noticing that thoughts are coming, and letting them go.

Ditto feelings. It helps when the situation is natural and beautiful but it's possible anywhere. And yet, it's so difficult sometimes.

The irony is that if we could let go of thinking we haven't time to sit and do nothing and just be, we'd most likely find that the time we do have runs more smoothly and things happen more easily.

I'm going to start with a Warning

Shopping's great, but I couldn't leave here without getting in touch with the ancient spirit of the aboriginal earth.

So, we plan to climb up Mount Warning, which is a volcanic plug and the first place in Australia that the sun touches when it rises in the morning.

It was named Warning by Captain Cook (above). The Aboriginal people call it Wollumbin, meaning Eagle. Can't wait to stand on top and be connected back thousands of years to all the ancestors who have felt the sun coming up there, as it does every morning, without judgment or hurry or words.

But we won't know unless we give it a go.

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