It's amazing what some time away can do for your perspective.
Australia's former High Commissioner to Trinidad and Tobago, and ambassador to the Carribean Community, John Pilbeam, is back in the town where he went to high school before beginning his more than 40 year career as a diplomat.
"There's something of a climatic contrast to Ballarat," he said, chuckling, when describing the Carribean.
He noted the quality of life in the city has dramatically improved, though perhaps the priorities had changed.
"It's interesting, the town is wealthier and more dynamic, but it's less self-sufficient," he said.
"Economically, it's more clearly part of Melbourne, it's more integrated into Australia, really.
"We were sort of more a rural service centre and less of a dormitory town for the western part of Melbourne.
"I think those who've been responsible for Ballarat's development have done a pretty good job - but it has changed."
Mr Pilbeam has worked across the world, beginning in 1975 in the Indochina department in Canberra.
"A fairly serious time in Indochina," he said - Australia's involvement in the Vietnam War was coming to an end, among other climactic events.
His first foreign posting was to Jamaica, where he grew enamoured with the Carribean.
"It's a fascinating area, each little island is different," he said.
"They're like countries in Europe, they've got different histories, different colonial powers who occupied them at different times, different economic systems."
He was then moved to Asia, working in Papua New Guinea soon after it became an independent nation.
"There were areas in the middle of PNG that were only exposed to the outside world in the 1940s - when you go there 30 years later, it's still an intact, very different culture," he said.
"I did quite well to travel to the more remote parts of PNG, it was sort of left to the junior officers in the mission to travel to the more remote places, especially if there was only one engine on the aeroplane.
"The two of us at the bottom of the tree got to travel to all the provinces - if we heard about a famine breaking out in one area, we'd go and have a look."
Postings to the United Nations and South Korea were "quite a contrast", he said.
"I learnt a tiny bit of the (Korean) language - you either do a little or a lot, because it's a very complicated language, but it's got an alphabet so it's easy to read and to get into it," he explained.
"I probably don't speak Korean anymore, but I used to be able to at least make myself understood in the marketplace."
In 2015, Mr Pilbeam was posted to the Australian consulate in Port Au Spain, Trinidad, in charge of Australia's presence in 14 separate countries.
It's not just cocktail parties, he said - some of the sharpest memories he has of the region are the devastation wrought by successive hurricanes.
"Two years ago, there were two huge hurricanes that struck, Maria and Irma," he said.
"Dominica, one of the islands that was my responsibility, I remember flying over it about two weeks later and it was like every leaf on the island had been removed, it was just the bare trees.
"You could see all the rooftops and everything that was on the ground, but before it was a huge leafy canopy with hundreds of shades of green.
"The whole island was stripped bare and blown off."
In spite of the tragedy, Mr Pilbeam said Australians should be proud of the work the consulate contributed to in the aftermath.
"We got a little aid appeal through our friends in the Municipal Association there, they said this particular village has suffered badly from the storm and we really just need a drain - we're having difficulty getting money from the government, they said, which is doing a lot of fixing up from the last storm," he said.
"It was only $9000 - then there was the huge hurricane, and they told me the drain had saved the village."
While many people decry Australia's foreign aid budget, Mr Pilbeam said often they were surprised when they discovered how small it actually is - less than 1 per cent of the total budget, compared to defence, for example, which is about 7 per cent.
"We do lots of tremendous things with that 1 per cent - it's a pretty good deal," he said.
"Even if it is outside our area of priority, just as a matter of humanity - we're after prosperity in our neighbourhood because it builds stability.
"It's a jump to go a little further and say we're after prosperity in the world because it builds stability - I think people still have a little trouble in going that far, they think of aid as something going somewhere far away like the Middle East or Africa.
"They don't make the link between prosperity and stability there, and the world we live in here in Australia."
Mr Pilbeam was understandably democratic when asked for his opinion on the world at large, but he did note there were "more challenges internationally" being faced, and the world is becoming "a more unstable place".
"There were some things we thought we were more certain about, and now we're not so sure," he said.
"We've navigated these problems in the past, and I have faith we'll continue to be able to do so, but it's not going to be easy.
"We need to continue to work hard building international stability, because I think the world is becoming a more unstable place - that's going to affect us all.
That said, he is confident in Australia, describing it as a strong and resilient society.
"I think we all work together fairly well," he said.
"I haven't seen the kind of powerful populism you see in eastern Europe or other parts of the world, I haven't seen that in Australia - you have a couple of people saying odd things from time to time, but they're plainly outside the mainstream.
"We've had our 27 going on 28 years of economic growth, people still have stuff to complain about as in all countries, but really, each time I come back to Australia, the living standard is a little bit higher.
"People don't recognise it if they're there all the time."
While Mr Pilbeam has moved back to Buninyong to care for his family, he added there would always be places he'd like to work in.
"I think there's always plenty to do," he said.
"I think Australia's diplomats do a tremendous job for Australia across a whole raft of things that only a few people actually encounter."
He will miss the music, he said.
"I particularly like Trinidadian steel band music, because you can do anything on a steel can, you can play a symphony - and people do," he said enthusiastically.
"There's tremendous cultural expression throughout the islands, and each island's different, it's all a little world."
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