Author Stephen Orr: Five places that made me

HERVEY BAY, QUEENSLAND

My first teaching job in 1996. The plane descended, landed and I crossed the tarmac. Hot and humid, the propellers, blowing hot air over my wet clothes. My own personal Wake in Fright. I managed to find a taxi, and the driver thought it kind of funny, me arriving with no car, no house, only a job at a fairly tough school. But I was off and running. The place grew on me. The after-school swims at Torquay; the fig trees full of flying foxes, and the school excursions to Fraser Island. In a way, you have to invent your own life.

SACHSENHAUSEN CONCENTRATION CAMP, GERMANY

A strange day, how buses disgorged tourists at the camp's gate, and how they were given lanyards, and orange beanies. This place is full of ghosts, brushing up against you. The way people fall silent around the execution pit in "Station Z" (named because there was no place after this one), the crematorium. And all of the information, the plastic-wrapped books in the shop. Can't explain it. You leave a slightly different person.

CHARLES DICKENS' HOUSE, 48 DOUGHTY STREET, LONDON

This one is for the Dickens nuts (me). Started reading him when I was 13, and still going. And all this time, reading about Victorian London, and the great man walking up Holborn Hill with a Megalosaurus. Then you go into house, up the stairs into his writing room, and stand beside the desk that gave us Oliver Twist and Nicholas Nickleby. As you search the bookshelves for clues; the rugs; the view from the window – nothing explains where Fagin and Fanny Squeers came from.

SOVEREIGN HILL, BALLARAT, VICTORIA

This is where you go, as a kid, to become someone else. To sink into the past, forget school, homework and boiled carrots. To smell the fires, and hear the carriages and hammering from the forge. I always found it hard to leave (and still do), because the past seems such an inviting place.

PORT ELLIOT, SOUTH AUSTRALIA

This is the classic South Australian summer holiday. A week in a shaggy-dog-smelling house by a bone-white beach by Joyce's "snotgreen sea". Go swimming, come home, eat, sleep – repeat until you're brown, or burned red. A visit to Victor Harbor for fried chicken, an afternoon quad biking, or bookshop browsing, but mostly, the chance to turn your brain down to zero, and marvel at the way the sun sets over the Southern Ocean, as we keep returning, predictably, to the places that made us happy as kids.

Stephen Orr's most recent novel is The Hands (Wakefield Press, $29.95). He was recently awarded the Eucalypt Australia/Australian Book Review fellowship. See wakefieldpress.com.au

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