In the build up to Australia Day, I’ve read many articles in the press that question what the real Australia is like now, and what it means to be an Australian.
Which I find quite hard to explain.
You see, we were far from unhappy in the UK when we made, (what was for us), an uncommonly impulsive decision.
The decision stemmed in part from the old man’s first midlife crisis, then there was the habitual problem of my itchy feet and just a mutual feeling that in spite of reaching a comfortable stage of security in our life, we didn’t feel we had challenged ourselves enough. We weren’t naïve enough to think the grass would be any greener on the other side of the world. By the respective ages of forty, we had acquired some wisdom – although it would be a barefaced lie to say that the Australian climate held no appeal.
I had always suspected that I had SAD issues.
But we left good friends and family behind, which is never an easy choice, uprooted our children at an impressionable age, and without the security of new jobs to slot into, we had no possible idea if this crazy decision of ours would work out.
We can always come back, we secretly justified to ourselves, while to the rest of the world we attempted to show the outer confidence of born adventurers.
Fortunately for us, we have never regretted that decision, but with hindsight I realize now that going back wouldn’t have been quite as easy as I thought at the time. And the danger of itchy feet is that they can create the next generation of transient people and I’m pretty certain that if I’d moved our children across the world a second time, my old friend ‘parental guilt’ would have taken even stronger root .
As my readers will be aware, I see my life in ‘moments’. There are great moments and there are moments in your life you need to move on from with lightening speed. I have experienced many significant moments in Australia, but in particular, many of the simpler ones – which are always the best.
The ocean has contributed to many of those moments, even though (and the old man will vouch for this) a chlorinated pool holds much more appeal for me these days. Unspoiled beaches, basking in cool water on a 40 degree New Years Day on Paradise Beach, snorkelling on the reef, fireworks in front of the Harbour Bridge, or simply watching the sun set over the ocean are memories I will always treasure. And then there’s the food… In Australia, I can work hard all week – (and it’s a myth that the working life is easier) – and be in Paradise for the weekend.
There is a simplicity of life here and the general happiness and ease of the people is hard to resist. Perhaps borne from the climate, the outdoor lifestyle is very important to Australians and although there are wealthy pockets of Sydney which offer seriously fuck-off houses and elite schooling, the weekend boils down to which beach, how good the surf is and who’s manning the barbeque for most people.
In my experience, success is judged by your lifestyle and you don’t have to earn a lot of money to create an enviable lifestyle.
But, inevitably, you can never eradicate your roots (and nor would you want to), cultural expectations and history and there are qualities of the UK that I will always miss, aside from the obvious like friends and family.
‘Humour’ is the most obvious.
I have met people here who have made me belly-laugh, but it takes more trial and error to find that special, innate connection – probably because it emanates from culture and history – although I could equally contribute the intolerance that comes with ageing to my lack of success, too.
I miss my history and being able to share it with my kids.
And then there’s the distance – being so bloody far away from the rest of the world (and let’s not even mention not having Europe on my doorstep) creates a sense of insularism. If you relied on Australian television, you might never know that anything ever happened in other parts of the world.
But how I would miss the sight of those semi-clad surfers that used to wander down my street, or being able to swim outside almost all year around, or the opportunity of meeting such a diverse, multi-cultured array of people, (many of whom have shared our migration journey and willingly share their beliefs, cuisine and hospitality with us), and the lack of a true class structure.
For the moment, I am proud to call Australia home.