Jason Rebello: The Backpack Author

Chasing his dream with his newly wedded wife, Jason Rebello began to unpack the fuss about Crocodile Dundee in the land of the golden soil, while he wrote a book ‘Red Earth Diaries’ and became an ambassador for migrants.

This man proposed marriage after a four-month relationship. Who does that? And who would even be game to accept it? Jason Rebello and Ambika from Mumbai took the giant leap of faith and went on two road trips of a lifetime: one is called love and the other is Australia.

Now he’s penned the experience in his debut book, Red Earth Diaries. It’s a beautiful story by a gifted storyteller, encompassing a full circle of his life leading to Australia – ultimately with his wife, who shares his enthusiasm for travelling.

Jason and Ambika with children Rohan and Renee

This is a feel-good love story not only between a man and woman, but also with a country he fell in love with as a seventeen -year old. Rebello came to Brisbane as a young sea cadet in 1994; he recalls that most cargo operations were long and would dock for three to four days during the 90s. He had the opportunity to step out, shop and see the people. The excitement that engulfed him was profound; Rebello visited other ports around Australia but he always remembered Brisbane vividly. From that journey in 1994, Rebello spent almost two decades on sea liners, graduating all the way to captain.

As a travelling sea captain, he fell in love with the whole essence of backpacking. In 2007, he backpacked across India from Meghalaya to Kerala and also to the ancient waters of Andaman. Rebello was still a bachelor, as he hadn’t met that someone special to share his dreams with; his friends were married, everyone was busy and Rebello had a passion for travelling.

But a seed was embedded in Rebello in 1994, which he also talks about in the book. It was not something he thought about at that time, but he saw someone walking the streets of Brisbane in bare feet; Rebello was immediately attracted to the laidback lifestyle. There were no condescending eyes of judgement; this resonated with him. In the back of his mind he thought, “Maybe I should come here one day.”

‘That seed came to life when he met Ambika. He missed sailing, and the taste of travelling around India – and he missed the bond made with his father while growing up. All these mixed emotions finally made him choose Australia. But, Australia was totally random too: it was ‘let’s go explore and then decide’ for Rebello. The reluctant bachelor was convinced by his future wife Ambika that he can still travel and be married; he didn’t have to give up travelling. In fact, she would travel with him! The penny dropped for Rebello; it was his Aha moment when Ambika said that. He beautifully gives credit to his wife for settling in Australia.’

Originally from Mangalore and half-Bengali, Ambika worked in the jewellery business before surrendering to Rebello’s backpack lifestyle. The unlimited adventure of caravanning was only made possible when Ambika, who herself was well-travelled around the world, said ‘yes’ to both proposals.

It was as if they were destined to be in Australia. They kick-started their adventure as soon as they came to Australia. While most migrants will dive in for a job, home and all the baggage that comes with settling in a new country, Rebello and Ambika decided to do the opposite.

With a backpacker mindset and ten thousand dollars in their pocket, they toured a full circle of the country for two months. Rebello confesses that he had no clue how to look for a rental property; all he knew was he had a travelling spirit and a great partner who shared his enthusiasm. They had a beat-up car as their go-with-the-flow companion; sometimes they would catch a flight, a train, a bus or even a traffic fine.

They backpacked from Brisbane to the Sunshine Coast, where they dived with sharks. Then it was on to Airlie Beach, the Whitsunday Islands, Mackay, Cairns, Port Douglas and then further remote to Cape Tribulation. They travelled to Melbourne, the Twelve Apostles, Yarra Valley, Canberra and the Blue Mountains in NSW, ending their journey in Sydney. They celebrated their first anniversary in Sydney along with showers of blessings, as there was a special mass celebration in the cathedral with people having their anniversary. Ambika talks about how for most migrants the journey starts in Sydney, but for them it ended in Sydney; the end to the beginning. Finally, the untamed beauty of Western Australia made them settle in Port Hedland.

Their message to all migrants is to see the place they wish to call home – travel around! It’s like introducing yourself to a friend, to feel comfortable in each other’s company.
On being asked what is so special about his book that people would want to buy it, Rebello says that it’s the four primary pillars. It’s a travelogue, a migrant’s journey (carrying a backpack for adventure and a wheel suitcase filled with certificates looking for jobs), an exploration of the themes and history of Australia, and a love story. He writes self-help books for migrants coming to Australia; he doesn’t consider himself as a gifted author, yet he thinks that’s a journey in progress. Being an author myself, I know that this journey is never-ending.

Like most men, Rebello didn’t know what he wanted, as Ambika puts in her own words. He liked the idea of the whole modern ‘arranged marriage’ theory, as he would come all dressed up for a coffee only to say no to his potential partners. Taking a stab in the dark while walking along Carter Road, Mumbai, Rebello proposed to Ambika with Australia in mind, and today they are Indian–Australian. The entire process took eight months, and during his last leg as a sea captain he asked Ambika to join him on his voyage to the Baltic and see for herself what she was buying into.

Now living in remote WA with their two beautiful children Rohan and Renee, they did everything a migrant goes through, from distributing flyers to doing odd jobs. These two aspiring backpackers found each other while travelling, knowing themselves as partners. “The time that is right, whatever time it is,” according to Ambika.

So, what can I say about Red Earth Diaries? The author, the other protagonists (Ambika, Australia, India), the people and the food – it’s all about the love of the untamed heart that puts a couple into the nomad life in a heartbeat.

Red Earth Diaries is available now. Mr Sethi, the editor-in-chief of G’day India and The Indian Weekly, rightly says it has all the good ingredients of a good Bollywood film. When Rebello took a wedding photo with Ambika as well as a backpack and suitcase, he hadn’t intended it to be the cover of his book in 2021. We not only wish them the very best for their book but also give our blessings to the thriving adventurers within them. I think of J.R.R Tolkien: “Not all who wander are lost.”

The book is available for purchase from 8th July 2021 in eBook and paperback format via the author’s website: www.evolvingwordsmith.com as well as all major online bookstores.


By Nandita Chakraborty