When I left Australia at age 25 to become an actor I ended up on Mykonos and realised I should have done this many years before, when I was 16 or something. It made me realise that there was a big world out there and lots of wonderful and exciting places to be. That was in 1972. I was with a mate who was travelling for a couple of months, I was going off to become an actor and it was the beginning of the journey.
In 1974, I got a year's contract at the National Theatre of Great Britain. Working as an actor and being paid for it and with one of the most prestigious theatre companies in the world – that wasn't a bad way to start. The real Covent Garden existed then and I would walk through all the barrows and all the flowers and produce for sale on my way to rehearsal that people nowadays only recognise from My Fair Lady. But I got to say gidday to the sellers on my way to work every day. It was a wonderful experience.
When I came back to Australia in '75 for a holiday I got the opportunity to do a play called The Rainmaker for the Queensland Theatre Company and I had 10 weeks of one- and two-night stands in places like Winton, Charleville, Mount Isa.
This was the first time I had travelled my own country properly – I'd been up and down the coast surfing but this was the first time I had been to these great historical agricultural towns and saw how they had contributed to the country. And the people were so appreciative because there's not a lot of entertainment that gets there, so they came from hundreds of miles around to watch. Their enthusiasm for it was humbling.
I did a movie called Gorillas in the Mist and spent eight hours a day for about three weeks filming with those gorillas. Only four of us could be with them and that was Sigourney (Weaver), me, Chris Pollack and our cinematographer, moving with those gorillas until they stopped, then trying to film with them.
I have been back to Africa many times for personal travel and work. But that was the most extraordinary experience. I turned 40 there and when I was a little kid, if someone had said to me: "Where do you think you'll turn 40?", there was no way I would have ever said, "On the top of a mountain, in a country called Rwanda, surrounded by gorillas." And that to me is what life is about. If you want to chance it, there is so much surprise out there for you.
In the early '80s I spent four months living in China doing a film called Taipan. I lived in Guangzhou and very much enjoyed China and the people. I've been back a lot of times and it's a place where I feel totally comfortable. I've always enjoyed witnessing the enormous change that has happened. In the '80s there would be a man standing on every floor of the hotel taking note of who the people were and where they went. It was all Mao suits and bicycles and now it's cars and people dressed like westerners.
The sophistication that has happened there and the opportunities the Chinese people now have is very enjoyable to watch. For me, travelling is about the people.
Bryan Brown voices Dave the Goose in Air New Zealand's latest campaign – Better Way to Fly – which aims to entice Australians to experience Air New Zealand on their flights to North and South America. See airnewzealand.com.au