• Barbara Murphy-Shannon

Australia, Chapter 3 -The Truth about how this Journey Started...

Updated: Nov 16, 2021

As I’m walking down the dirt wash and feeling a little better but knowing it wouldn’t last long.

John runs to catch up to me.

“How ya doin, love?

“I’m ok”

“We’re going to be alright, you know”

“I know” I look over with my best fake smile.

While we walk I start to remember and how and why I’m here.

Beth and I arrived in Sydney on December 6th after spending a month in New Zealand. We went directly to the Dulwich Hill hostel and dropped off our packs. The place was nothing fancy, more like a dorm room than a hotel. The rooms were small and the walls are made of yellow bricks with small narrow windows.

After we get settled, we went to the American Express office to pick up our mail.

(In 1984 the only way I could communicate with people back home was letter writing. Once in a while, I would find a red telephone box and call collect but with the time difference, it was difficult. I would try to coordinate via our letters back and forth, pick a day that my family could expect a call. Usually on holidays or someone’s birthday but it wasn’t an easy task most of the time. You’d sometimes have to wait in line for hours or the phone wouldn’t connect and I’d give up after many tries.)

Beth got 5 letters.

Me… goose egg.

I was disappointed and felt less than but wasn’t going to show it. I'm sure my family just didn't know when I would be here so that's why they didn't write to me. This traveling stuff is new for all of us...right.

We left the American Express office and headed to the Manly Beach ferry, one of Australia’s most famous surfing beaches. The beach is tree-lined with a long stretch of fine soft sand. The beach is a popular destination for backpackers.

That’s where I got to know John from Tasmania and Mike, a surfer from Canada who also was staying at the same hostel.

John said he was heading home for the holidays after being in California for the last year. He said he didn’t or wasn’t ready to go home to Hobart Tasmania and killing time in Sydney.

John is really cute, not very tall but super funny. I’m curious why he’s taking so long to go home. What’s the back story?

The next day we went to downtown Sydney to get our tickets for Nepal. I decided to extend my stay in Australia and meet up with Beth in January.

Plus, I think it will be good for Beth and me. Beth is a lovely person and we do have fun together but when you’re with someone 24/7 for a long time it can start to feel uncomfortable. I’m pretty sure Beth feels the same.

We haven’t known each other very long. We met at a triathlon we (Dan, my brother, Beth, and Me) all competed in that summer. Beth is my brother’s girlfriend Cindy’s best friend from college. That’s how I was introduced to her. We were sitting on the ground after finishing the triathlon just chatting and my brother said to Beth, “when are you leaving on your trip?”

I was curious so I asked, “where are you going?”

Beth says she plans to backpack around the world and is leaving in October.

I thought to myself that would be so cool. I’d love to get out of town especially since I’m newly divorced and hate that everyone knows it. I just want to get out of town and away from everyone and everything. Maybe this is my ticket out.

I’m living with my sister Mo and her husband Tony which is so strange after being married and having my own home. They’re doing their best to make me as comfortable as possible but it’s not them, it’s me. I needed time to process what happened to me and time to heal away from everyone and away from here.

“I’d love to go on a trip like that,” I announce.

“You should but most people don’t have the time or money to do it” states Beth.

“Well, I have the money from my divorce settlement and I have a part-time job at a gym that wouldn’t be hard to quit” I rationalize.

“Who are you going with?” I ask.

“By myself but I will be meeting a friend in Nepal and then Rick is meeting me in Europe”

“I should go”

“Ya if you can get your stuff put together in time you should”

I go over to my brother and ask, “Dan, what do you think I should do?”

“Go now while you have the chance. You might not get this chance again,” Dan encourages.

And that is how I ended up on this journey.

Back in Australia, Beth is leaving on Monday for Nepal. She wants to be with Erin for Christmas. I’ve decided to go on Rob’s Outback tour for 14 days then I’ll head up to the Great Barrier Reef before flying to Nepal on the 6th of January.

Mike, John, Beth, and I spent most of the day on the beach, and Beth and I took a run.

After dinner, we went to The Rocks (a section of the city with all the nightlife)

Bob (different Bob) staying at the hostel from Canada joined us.

We started at the pubs which were similar to what you might see in Boston or London. Lots of booths and high-tops with stools, a long bar, hanging glass racks, a mirror behind the bar, some bottles of alcohol but mostly beer are being served. It’s very loud with music, talking, laughing, cheering, swearing, and yelling. It smells like stale beer, aftershave, cigarettes, bad breath, and body odor. Most of the people you can tell came right from work. Some were wearing suits with the tie missing and their top button was undone and others looked like they just finished digging a ditch with stained clothes and hands.

I squeezed myself into the pub managing to get through the mass crowd of drunks bumping, groping, and stumbling around. I found a vacant seat at the bar—a stool with torn leather seat. Smoke permeated the room, forcing me to squint as I looked around the room. Aussies bellied up to the bar to either side of me with empty shot glasses and half-full beer mugs in front of them suggesting regulars. I tried to flag down the bartender by reaching out my arm and accidentally hitting my neighbor's beer mug spilling beer in his direction.

“Damn it!” He glares at me.

I was waiting to get harassed when John jumps in.

“Sorry mate, my shout.” Sheila didn’t mean any harm,” he says in his cutest Australian accent.

(A “shout” in New South Wales is when you buy a round of drinks and women are called Sheila’s. Sheila alternatively spelled Shelagh and Sheelagh) is a common feminine given name, derived from the Irish name Síle, which is believed to be a Gaelic form of the Latin name Caelia, the feminine form of the Roman clan name Caelius, meaning 'heavenly'.)

The guy looks at me but this time his eyes are kind, not angry.

The bartender comes over and asks the guy, “You right mate?”

“Ya, I’ll take a pint of Four X”

We all get our drinks and I include our new friend in a toast.

“Cheers mate,” I say trying to fit in.

“Cheers,” he responds looking happier than before.

We were having a great time when the bartender starts yelling.

“Time to go!”

The light goes bright and everyone starts heading for the door.

“What the hell,” I said to John.

“Ya, all the pubs close early in Sydney,” John announces

“That sucks,” I was just getting started and feeling a little buzzed.

“What do you want to do?” I asked because I wasn’t ready to go back to the hostel.

“We can go to a nightclub down the street,” John says.

“I’m going to head back,” Beth shares.

“Me too,” Bob agrees.

I don't sleep…insomnia! I couldn’t go to sleep at 11 pm if you paid me. It’s a side effect of depression which I found out later. If I tried to go to bed like a normal person I would just lie awake for hours in agony, tossing and turning. It sucks. I either needed to be drop-dead tired or drunk enough to pass out. I preferred the latter.

So, the three of us, Me, John and Mike walked to a club down the street.

The Club was a totally different scene. It was dark and hard to see with the occasional strobe light flying by your head. The dance floor was filled with women in skimpy outfits. The music was loud, so loud you had to scream in someone’s ear to talk. It smells of strong cheap perfume and cologne. Instead of beer, people are drinking martinis and mixed drinks. People are flirting and trying to make their moves in hopes to score.

I took a sip of my drink and I feel like dancing. I’m a little drunk and I start grinning at John hoping he’ll get the hint. John smiles back at me and we’re off to the dance floor. He dances pretty well for a dude. We dance to a couple of fast songs then a slow song comes on. I wasn’t sure to stay or leave when John reaches over and grabs my hand to slow dance.

Our bodies are tight against each other swaying to the music. I’m feeling nervous and happy at the same time. I’m not sure if I should get involved. I need to heal but on the other side of the coin, I need to know what it’s like to be with a kind man, a gentleman, one that won't hurt me…

I just hope he is.


This is a true story that chronicles my rebellious journey when I was 24 years old backpacking around the world looking for solace after the end of an abusive marriage. An intensely graphic and heartfelt memoir of self-discovery is about how getting lost can be where you belong, how traveling to new cultures and meeting new people helps you heal, find your voice and remember who you really are and want to be. It is certain to inspire anyone who has ever woken up in a life they don’t want to be in. Many life lessons and some bad decisions (sorry Mom) along the way. Buckle in! It's going to be a bumpy ride.

xoxo, Barbara

Barbara Murphy-Shannon, Psy.M. is a Breakthrough Business Coach for Entrepreneurs and Leaders. Sign up for my weekly blog or reach out at Barbara@barbaramurphyshannon.com