Long Way From Home
This week I had the privilege of my first ever trip to Australia, to the city of Melbourne on the East coast. Anyone who has travelled there from the UK will know it's a long trip (about 28 hours of travel split across three flights and some breaks in between) and moving forward nine hours in time takes its toll on mind and body, especially when you're too tall for most plane seats and struggle to sleep! Travel aside, however, it's proved to be incredibly worthwhile and
My childhood expectations of Australia (200 degree heat, everything is made of deadly spiders) have, thankfully, not been proved true! It's winter here right now, so the weather is perfect for the modern Scottish man who is carrying a couple of additional pounds! Bright, crisp, sunny days and perfect for walking around and exploring. The city has a huge amount to see, much of it in a relatively small geographic area and the grid layout of the city, much in the style of a US city or the centre of Glasgow, makes navigation simple. On top of that, the city centre has free tram travel right around it, so hopping on and off to get around makes life very simple.
My trip involved a day of exploring before getting down to business, so yesterday I took full advantage. I arrived in the city shortly before 7am, so I dropped my bag at the hotel, grabbed a free map and hit the pavements. The sun rose shortly after seven, lighting up the sky in orange and then a brilliant bright morning, as I jumped on a tram and heading down through the docklands, along Flinders St and towards a couple of significant AC/DC related sights I wanted to see (the murals of Bon Scott and Malcolm Young on AC/DC Lane and Swanston St where the video for It's a Long Way To The top was filmed on the back of a flatbed). After that, I grabbed breakfast, a cuppa and walked into Fitzroy Gardens where I was met with a familiar face!
Not familiar in that I knew him personally, but familiar in that his is a face I've seen many many times before, on the cover of books, in the National Portrait Gallery and on the statue in Leith outside of a branch I spent time working in. The face of Robert Burns, Scotland's most famous poet, immortalised in statue.
That shouldn't be too unusual, really. After all, outside of Queen Victoria and Christopher Columbus, Burns is the non-religious figure of whom there are most statues around the world. His poems, songs and writings have been significant to some of the most important figures in history, including America's most beloved President. Coming from the most humble of beginnings, his work came at the end of the line of poets writing in Scots, until a later revival, and was seen as a pre-cursor to the romantic era poets, for his focus on feeling and emotion. Moreover, he was a fierce individualist and stood against authority and against the religious hypocrisy which he saw around him.
This defiance made him a popular figure with Frederick Douglass, a former slave and later, influential abolitionist who drew parallels between his own experience and those of Burns, and while he recognised that the Scot was a man with flaws, saw him as "far more faultless than many who have come down to us in the pages of history as saints".
His birthday is celebrated around the world and there even exists a replica of his cottage in Atlanta, Georgia. Abraham Lincoln was said to be able to quote Burns poems and songs from memory. A remarkable outcome for the self-educated son of a farmer from the Ayrshire countryside. To be significant in our own lifetimes is special, but to be significant hundreds of years after we've gone, to people in countries we never even visited, is something incredible.
Seeing his statue yesterday was a reminder that our circumstances and our background should never be an impediment to the impact that we can have and that by keeping an open mind and being open to new ideas and thoughts, we can find inspiration in the most unlikely of places!