“We’ve just moved back here from Australia”
Always an interesting way to introduce yourself. Cue silence. A slight air of bewilderment as my conversational partner glances around the wind and rain battered Scottish scenery.
“What made you come back? or slightly less regularly, “Why on earth would you come back to this shithole?”
And of course, there’s never just one reason. And every time I try to succinctly pop it into a couple of sentences I fail *miserably*. First I have to resist the temptation to ask the latter group of enquirees why they haven’t extracted digit from derriere and done something to leave if Scotland is just that excrement laden.
Let me preface this by saying Australia is an absolutely wonderful country. The lifestyle is phenomenal, and the Australians must be the most friendly, outgoing, and generally hilarious group of people it’s ever been my pleasure to experience. I will forever miss that beautiful sunburnt country. It’s just that our relationship didn’t work out in the end.
The Beginning of A Love Affair
I first went to Australia in August 2003 as a backpacker. I enjoyed a fabulously carefree year, and within a few weeks really felt like it was a place I could call home. To add to my delight I not only fell in love with an entire continent, I was lucky enough to go sailing in the Whitsundays and fall in love with a very gorgeous dive instructor from New Zealand. I was so keen on him I took him home with me. After a couple of years in the UK, his traveller visa ran out. It was either get married or take off. We took off. In late 2006 we got me a defacto spouse visa so I could enjoy some nice residency rights in Australia. It was an easy decision, as my online marketing business meant I could take my work with me wherever I went.
At that point we looked at the price of flights. And decided “If we are going to the trouble of moving, why not do a wee trip. Round the world tickets are only £500 extra on top of a one-way.” There ensued a year long jaunt around Thailand, Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, Hawaii, and the USA. On careful reflection, we are a bit easily distracted.
We left a campervan in Australia, and picked it back up in Early 2008 when we finally remembered what we were meant to be doing, and turned up in Australia to live there. We very quickly fell in love with, and bought a house 10 mins from the beach that backed onto rainforest in Buderim on the Sunshine Coast.
Later that year we nipped home to get married before returning to Australia to move into our new home. We started renovating it, and oh my goodness I loved it there so much. The distance between the UK and Australia really didn’t feel all that huge to us. Our flexible work arrangement meant we could go wherever we wanted for as long as we wanted. And as you may now be realising, it also paid rather well.
Marriage & Suburbia
Then in 2010, my grandmother passed away, and I wasn’t able to get home for her funeral. The sheer distance, and us having just poured most of our spare cash into the house meant it just wasn’t possible.
Later that year, I made it home on a visit planned before my gran passed. My family kindly waited till then to say a final goodbye to gran and spread her ashes. I realised how “myself” I felt around them and my close friends. Something that was never obvious when I lived in the UK and could see them anytime. But it was early days in Australia. I probably just needed to give myself time to put down those essential roots. We headed off home via South East Asia, congratulating ourselves on our wonderful life.
In late 2010 my good friend from uni and his boyfriend came to visit. We pulled off a good ol’ Aussie road trip. Hit the Whitsundays, went sailing, got hideously drunk in Airlie Beach, before heading south to beautiful 1770, then on to Bondi, having a glorious week in a beachfront apartment, and getting ourselves out on the harbour on a boat for new years eve. It was one of the happiest times of my life – I’d never realised how much value there is in being around people who truly know you, and have known you forever. As we parted ways and went back to our respective lives, I had a nagging feeling I was heading in the wrong direction. I didn’t feel like I wanted to return to suburbia and renovations. But hey, we were planning a family. It was a magnificent house, and where we were meant to be. So off we went.
When we got home to our “dream” house, we walked in the door and discovered a hole in the wall beside our front door. After some rain of historic proportions some termites had sought higher ground. Bit of a contrast.
Starting A Family
But not to worry. Because I’d fallen pregnant!! Our dreams had come true at last! We were going to have a beautiful family. Elated, I resolved to stay active. So a few days later I set off for a walk in the early morning. About a kilometer from the house I started to feel ill. Very ill. Then I couldn’t walk anymore. In another minute, I was in agony with the most horrendous abdominal pains. In my wisdom, I’d not taken my phone with me. So I just lay there on the grass verge quietly weeping and contemplating a long crawl home. After an eternity (a few minutes) the most beautiful person stopped her car and asked me what was wrong. I gasped that I was pregnant and just not very well, so she offered to drive me home. I’m sure you don’t have to be a clairvoyant to guess, but sadly our baby had decided to leave us. My new Aussie friends were extremely kind sympathetic, and caring about it all but they weren’t “those” friends yet. You know, the ones who you can harp on endlessly at, cry, stamp your feet at, generally annoy endlessly about the situation, and repeat till healed. And I’m what can politely be described as “endless” about this sort of stuff. I carry hurt way beyond the point where a normal person has filed it away and dealt with it.
But it was OK. I still loved Buderim and the Sunshine Coast. I was making wonderful friends. I still really felt blessed to have this wonderful flexible life that meant I could live wherever I wanted. We got on with the house (thankfully the termites didn’t like cypress, which is what most of the house was built of). They appeared no less than 7 times that year, one of the wettest on record. I only had to cry on the owner of the termite company once for him to quietly stop charging us call out fees, and giving us the pest treatment half price. We went an amazing holiday to New Zealand, visited Milford Sound, hired a helicopter for an hour and landed on a glacier. You know, as you do. What an amazing place to live.
Pregnancy – Where’s The Glamour?!
After an eternity of worry, horrendous negative tests, and generally thinking we’d never have children (it was about 6 months) we got that positive test. Joy!
At *exactly * the instant I fell pregnant, my business (which was our entire income) started to be quite adversely affected by changes in Google. Everything was still OK. But my carefully planned maternity leave was starting to look umm… a bit dubious. And I had no idea just what else Google might change. This is an occupational hazard in my business. It had happened many times before, and being an obsessive type of person. I’d always just chipped away until it was all good again. I refuse to be gotten the better of. But at this point in time I was blessed with hyperemesis. It’s not that easy to work when vomiting is your new career, and all your willpower is devoted to staying upright. Not a great condition for the creative thought required to work through Google related fun.
Still. Not to worry. I’d soon be feeling better. And I did feel better after a few weeks. But it didn’t last. Pregnancy is not my friend. I swung from feeling sick, to utter exhaustion, and almost constant braxton hicks, and physical discomfort. I wasn’t coping, I was stressed about juggling work and family, and I wasn’t having the glowing pregnancy I’d been promised by all the parenting magazines. I felt an awfully long way from home!
A One Sided Relationship
Then it was time to renew my visa. When I was young, carefree, and feeling invincible the nature of the visa didn’t worry me. It was a simple matter to gain residency in Aus for me. Wee medical, few forms, jobs a good ‘un. It was only when I came to re-do it at a point in time I was feeling a bit “disabled” that I realised it perhaps wasn’t so awesome after all.
A 461 visa is reassessed every 5 years. There is no path to permanent residency, much less citizenship. There is no recourse to public funds in the event of unemployment. If I tried to renew my visa and I was sick in some way the government deemed undesirable in the expensive to treat sense… My visa would be cancelled. Pregnancy blessed me with a sudden ability to be concerned about practical issues. My sense of indestructability was very much dented.
It was round about then I realised that much as I loved Australia, and despite it being unlikely I’d ever need any kind of benefits, or get deported for having cancer, I couldn’t really start to feel a connection with the place because it wasn’t going to be “my” country. I would never be able to vote, and my unborn child wouldn’t even be a citizen. I’d met lots of lovely people who were also expats, and seeing them proudly getting their citizenship on Australia Day made me feel kind of disconnected. I realised I was in a one sided relationship with Australia. I’d committed to the country, I’d brought my business there, and paid my tax there. But Australia didn’t want to commit to me.I’d never expected to feel that way. I thought I could happily call a country my own regardless. I guess I’m just one of those people who needs to feel loved 😉
Then in late 2011 my parents came to visit during the late stages of my pregnancy. And it was during that visit that my homing beacon was well and truly activated.
“I want my MUM!”
And that was it. If you are wondering why nothing here talks about my husbands feelings – it’s because he was quite happy in Australia. But being an all round wonderful guy, he could see I was struggling and just wanted me to be happy, regardless of where he had to live to do that. Yes, I know. I’m so lucky.
But You Know, No Worries Mate…
It took us another THREE years to finally make the move back. They weren’t miserable years by any stretch of the imagination. Our baby girl arrived in February 2012, I had an utterly blissful year of mothers groups, baby playgroups, trips to the beach, coffee, lunch, and I honestly started to wonder if my wish to return home had simply been mostly about the truly horrible pregnancy. I had met the most beautiful group of women through having a baby, and for the first time in many years I was once again feeling I had found “those” people. The ones I could be myself around without worrying.
Maybe I was wrong after all?
But as my new found friends drifted back to work, and the coffee and lunch fun faded into fond memory, the feeling returned to the fore. It wasn’t strong or desperate. But it was certain. Meanwhile, Duncan had started a new business of his own repairing iPhones. There was no longer any pressure (real or imagined) on me to bring in the money and sort out the kiddies at the same time. We decided to have another baby in Australia as we were in quite a good position and didn’t want a big gap between babies. Pregnancy 2 was thankfully free of the endless vomiting of pregnancy 1. We also had to actually finish the renovation of our house (which by that stage we’d realised was completely inappropriate for a young family), and the property market was still awful after the GFC.
Should I Stay Or Should I Go?
Path of least resistance beckoned. It would have been so very easy at that point to make the decision to stay. Duncan’s business really took off, and in the end was making just as much as mine did. But we had no family support for ourselves and our young girls. We hadn’t had a night out together since our first baby was born. And as we welcomed baby girl number 2 into the world in December 2013, we realised it was going to get a lot harder. We also realised that one of our true passions in life, travel, hadn’t been happening for us recently. We’d gotten bogged down in the world of home and family. We’d been *everywhere* in Australia. And everywhere else was impossibly far away.
Duncan, who previously just wanted to keep his wife happy was suddenly seeming a lot keener on moving. We put the finishing touches to the house (which we’d been renovating on and off for a whole 5 years by this stage), put it on a thankfully rejuvenated market. And sold it in just 5 weeks. I’m not surprised. It was bloody beautiful. Our contract of sale went down on November 11 2014. It went unconditional two weeks later. We then had 2.5 weeks to organise and execute an international move because the new owners wanted in before Christmas (and we wanted out!!).
We left Australia the day after our baby’s first birthday. December 15th 2014.
I missed my family more than I could ever have imagined. I might have been able to deal with that if I’d really been able to call the beautiful country that is Australia my own. Even those two things might have been surmountable, but we bought the wrong house. Instead of being able to host BBQs for our new found friends, and enjoy endless beach trips, we spent every spare minute trying to finish off something that had become (a rather beautiful) millstone around our necks. People who we could have become closer to remained acquaintances, and roots we could have put down remained untapped.
At the time of writing this, we’ve been back in the UK for 3 months. We are still exhausted emotionally and physically. We are surrounded by our what ifs, and thoughts of all the things we now know we should have done differently to give us the chance of making our relationship with Australia work. But hindsight is always such a marvellous organisational tool.
But what next? Well, we aren’t buying another fucking house for a long time. That’s for golly gosh darned sure!