Travel News

Michael Leunig: how I travel

The cartoonist, poet and author is drawn to remote places and gentle journeys into people’s lives.

By Helen Anderson
Michael Leunig

Just back from: The bush, wandering happily among the trees, wallabies and birds, and feeling quite at home.

Next up: Sydney and weariness.

I'm from Melbourne's western**suburbs,** resplendent with factories, quarries, rubbish tips, slaughterhouses, noxious industries, tanneries, clouds of smoke, bad smells, sentimental songs, raw language, working-class humour and ugly old-fashioned hooliganism.

My first trip abroad was to Bali in 1974 with my first wife, Pamela, and a dear friend, Kathy. We stayed in Ubud for a month in the wet season. There was no electricity, just kerosene lamps. It was all very agricultural; a rice culture using traditional methods and such a huge revelation: bare-breasted women in sarongs carrying baskets on their heads, water buffalo pulling ploughs, frogs, geckoes, fireflies, herds of waddling brown ducks, gamelan music, animals and chickens wandering the unpaved streets, paintings and sculptures, lush gardens; extraordinary beauty at every turn.

I'm a quiet and patient traveller who doesn't enjoy recreational trips very much. I'd rather be at home making something or freely amusing myself. The more I go out into the world, the more introspective I become.

When confined to a plane I carry a small plain Moleskine notebook and jot notes or draw patterns and peculiar things. I don't watch movies. I look out the window and find fascinating shapes in the land below.

I've made marvellous long journeys into remote regions of Australia with some extraordinary artists: Les Murray the poet, David Larwill the painter, Ginger Riley and Michael Nelson Jagamara, both Indigenous artists. Unique memorable people.

My ideal trip is one with a purpose, a practical engagement, a gentle journey into people's lives. Not too long and not too short. Not too much time in a stuffy plane.

The travels that have affected me most include journeys with Indigenous people in the central desert regions, in Arnhem Land, Cape York and the Top End. I have been touched by many of the small obscure country towns of Australia. Time spent wandering the sad militarised backstreets of Belfast when the hunger striker Bobby Sands died in the Maze prison was intense and sorrowful - but profoundly rich and enlivening, too.

I deal with fans on the road with good cheer and curiosity. I ask them about their lives. I hear lovely funny things. They open up to me. I learn. I mostly enjoy these people.

Travel probably broadens the horizons, particularly if you're unimaginative or narrow. Perhaps it's humbling. Maybe it's confusing and corrupting. A lot of it is delusional and self-aggrandising. Old-fashioned wanderlust may have become travel greed. If it makes you homesick or feel insignificant or causes you to reflect in lonely soulfulness, then it could deepen you immensely.

Michael Leunig's Ducks for Dark Times (Penguin, $24.99) is on**sale now.

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  • Author: Helen Anderson