I spent a total of 10 days "living" in Townsville.

After my Mom left Australia and I was no longer needed as an au pair, there was really no reason for me to stay in the family's house. I applied for a governess job that required sailing from Townsville north on the Coral Sea to Darwin, but had no response. There were scant nanny jobs in smaller cities in Oz. Furthermore, if I worked a minimum wage job the income would barely be enough to survive given the cost of living in Townsville. In short, it was time to leave the Fitzgerald family -- my only constants in this foreign land.

I was sad to leave Bree & Michael. I hoped they would adjust to Townsville and their Mom's new fiancee, yet, I was secretly thrilled to explore the rest of the country and live my new destiny.

I left the Fitzgerald house at 4:30 AM and flew over the glistening azure ocean, to the hub of Cairns. While on layover I met a young French woman who had a 1 year visa and lived/worked in Melbourne (pronounced "mel-bun"). She had seen a bit of Australia and was en route to the same destination as me with her Mom. Seeing them together reminded me of my Mom and the expedition we shared only a few weeks ago.

There was so much diversity in Australia: rainforests, deserts, beaches, nightlife, and countryside. There were so many one-of-a-kind experiences: the world's largest aquaium in Sydney, the pristine Whitsunday Islands, the isolated watering holes of Litchfield National Park, opal mines in Coober Pedy, the Great Barrier Reef in Queensland, the 12 Apostles on the Great Ocean Road, the WWII remnants in Darwin, South Australia's wine region, world-class surf on the Gold Coast, the interior's Devil's Marbles, and the deserted Nullarbor.

Yet, since the notion of moving to Oz, no place held more awe than seeing Ayer's Rock (its common, non-politically correct name). When moving to Queensland became a reality, I used to lay awake in bed & try to fathom what it would feel like to stand in the shadow of a timeless monolith in the middle of a desert, in the same spot the world's oldest cultures still roamed, and stare at an enormous product of Earth's turbulent past 540 million years ago.

Taking off from Cairns I watched from the airplane window as the view changed from lush green grasses, to the brown soil that is most of the interior of Queensland, and finally to the vibrant, iron-rich sand of the deserts in central Australia.  As Bill Bryson so eloquently wrote: "It began to feel eerily as if we had left planet Earth.  The soil took on a reddish glow, more Martian than terrestrial, and the sunlight seemed to double in intensity, as if generated by a nearer, larger sun."

I arrived in Alice Springs, Northern Territory (pronounced "tair-i-tree"), and was anxious to set off on my 4 hour drive so that I would arrive at Yulara -- the village where all Ayer's Rock lodging was located -- before sunset.  Stocked with only canned food & a few fresh fruit, I left modern civilization.Bill Bryson's quote proved quite true.  Two hours into the drive the afternoon sun had burnt my right cheek.  There were few cars/Utes a.k.a. utility trucks on the highway & the landscape looked the same the more I drove:  copper-colored soil, dry off-white weeds that resembled hay, and a few shrubs scattered across the Tanami Desert.
About 3 hours into the expedition, as the sun began to set, I thought I had made it to the national park in record time.  However, the landmark proved to be Mt. Connor -- which is actually larger & older than Ayer's Rock -- & I viewed it at prime-time.
Behind schedule I finally arrived at the campsite in Yulara.  6:00pm with nothing to do in the middle of nowhere. I unrolled my toasty sleeping bag that occupied an entire suitcase and unpacked the Dalai Lama's book The Art Of Happiness.  I opened my favorite Australian confectionary a.k.a. cookie: Shortbread with vanilla icing, but took the time to sit on the hood of the hire car a.k.a. rental car.   Staring at the vast blanket of night I tried to count the number of stars in one cluster in the sky: around 10.  Ten mutiplied by the enormity of the sky = a lot of stars!  Staring at nothing in particular, I gasped as a shooting star blazed from (what seemed like) the bottom of the sky to the top.  My first -- but not last -- shooting star in the red center!