London, United Kingdom
Last night, yet again, I woke up, not knowing where I was. That’s happened a couple times in the last few weeks.
I know I was in my bedroom. But.. I was still unsure. Where was I? And then I remembered. I was home. And no longer in Australia.
I moved back to London a few weeks ago after the best part of a year living in Australia. My departure was as abrupt as many before me – my working visa was about to expire and I was back where I began, at Heathrow Terminal 5. Being unable to live somewhere anymore is the strangest feeling. It’s abrupt and unfinished. It’s like ordering dessert and leaving the restaurant before it arrives. In a city that is diverse and filled with multi-layered cultural activities.. you’re not forgotten, but you’re easily replaced. I imagine someone seeing an empty place at the table and taking my seat. They’ll be drinking my glass of wine, chatting to my friends and making plans for the next weekend. Discussing summer holidays in Byron Bay, Great Barrier Reef, Noosa… deciding to visit the latest exhibition, try the new bar that’s opened around the corner. Life in that beautiful, crazy and infuriating city continues but the only difference is, I’m not there to see it.
I won’t lie.. there were moments where I struggled to find a job, a decent flat, and some kind of.. reason for being there. There were days when I’d seriously question why I had chosen to live in a city that was so far away from my friends and family, a city that spat me out at the best of times, where simple tasks were a constant battle. But gradually that capital drew me in and seduced me one day, one week and then one month at a time. I felt like Australia was the world and the world was at my fingertips.
When I think back, I don’t dwell on eating noodles for dinner or wearing ten dollars shoes that fell apart in the rain. I’ll laugh when I think of putting loose carrots through instead of a Beef Butterfly with Pepper & Chilli that weighed 1.2kg to save money *smirks at a certain person*, forget how homesick and lonely I felt, or how I never mastered the ability to dress for the ever-changing weather that Melbourne is famous for. Nor do I dwell on constantly moving houses because I couldn’t afford to pay extortionate rent. I won’t think about the time I sat and cried so much because my family were going through awful times and I was so angry with myself for being over there because I couldn’t do anything to help them. Or the night I (drunkenly) fell asleep on the tram and missed my stop and ended up at the tram depot, where I was told that we were near the airport, which is about one hour away from my house and that there were no more trams running or any taxis at this time of the night AND MY PHONE WAS DEAD. This then brought on tears from me. The tram depot manager came out and invited me into his office. Out came the map.
“Where do you live?”
“That’s only about fifteen minutes walk home.”
“What I get raped? Mmm..?”
“I SAID… WHAT IF I GET RAPED?”
“Umm.. I don’t.. er.. I think.. you’ll be okay?”
“Mm.. let me ask you this question. If I was your daughter or granddaughter, would you let me walk home that way? If you would let your daughter walk that way, then I will be more than happy to walk alone. So.. would you?
“My shift finishes in 45 minutes. I’ll drive you home.”
So, I sat in the staffroom, my head swaying with a smile on my face, watching Top Gear and drunkenly laughed at the Britishness of the programme.
45 minutes later, the tram depot manager came out and we walked to his car. He was such a lovely fellow. He was about 70 years old, so I knew I could overpower him if he tried anything funny.
“Thank you for driving me, by the way,”
“It’s okay, I don’t mind. Right.. off we go.”
*15 seconds later*
“STOP! I live over there! Oh.. well, this is awkward. Thank you for the ride.”
Turns out the depot was actually round the corner from my house. ***** sake.
I remember how I’d get shouted at on escalators in the metro because I’d stand on the right.. as it turns out, they stand on the left. I learnt how to weave through heaving crowds of people at Flinders Street. Mastered applying makeup on the Glen Waverly line, noticed how my walking pace had changed from walking record speed – London style, to walking with a spring in my step – Melbourne style. I reminisce complaining about the weather, keeping an eye out for the ticket inspectors because I didn’t have enough money on my Mykki, and drinking endless cups of hot chocolate and being on first name terms with the baristas in several cafes. I’ll remember the infamous road trip with R ikki and Ellie. I’ll remember dancing in a cage with 6 half naked men and a lady at Birdcage in Sydney. I’ll remember sitting down on the beach, eating fish and chips at 10pm in Noosa. I’ll remember being absolutely wasted, in a random pub in Freemantle – cheering on Freemantle Dockers and not having a clue what was going on. I’ll remember the time I ripped my trousers in front of everyone in Cairns.
I miss the peaceful green parks and beautiful old buildings. Late night drives with sparkling city lights and getting caught by the police because you did an illegal turn and a drag race once. Barbecues whenever we felt like it. Weekend markets. Night markets. Fireworks on the Southbank. Mid-week gigs. Corner shop chocolate bars. Pizza Hut and Game of Thrones. Cheap clothes. Boxes of Goon with my flatmates and arguing over everything and nothing. The exhibitions, theatre shows, comedy shows, bars, restaurants, clubs, opening parties, dinner parties, welcome back parties, going away parties, birthday parties, just any parties.
But most of all I miss those days when I would turn my face to the sky, regardless of whether or not it was covered with a thick blanket of white clouds or if it was a clear blue sky. I’d walk by the endless rows of Victorian terraced houses, and take a deep breath. I never felt more happy or more free on those evenings and afternoons I walked home by myself. Nowhere to be, no one to answer to, just walking down the streets with music in my ears.
I’ll never be grateful enough for all the couches I slept on, the friends shoulders I cried on, suggestions on where to live and where to work. Tips on how to navigate the metro, find the right tram stop, then actually get on the right tram and where to find the best hot chocolate. All those small pieces formed the patchwork of my life.
I’ll laugh at all the ridiculous adventures; mornings spent hungover at airports, clearing the furniture from our flat from the endless fancy dress parties we’d have, yelping whenever I’d see a possum at Flagstaff Gardens, chasing the sun at at St Kilda beach, thinking I had mastered flip cup and failing miserably.. and very drunk. Lying on the road, the Notebook style, in Swanston street at 5am on White Night Melbourne night. Walking around in my bikini on Christmas Day, drinking white wine mixed with Chambord and eating lamb kebab.. which mostly missed my mouth and ended up on the floor.
I read a quote a few months ago, before I came home. It sent shivers down my spine because it was so.. spot-on.
‘You will never be completely at home again, because part of your heart will always be elsewhere. That is the price you pay for the richness of loving and knowing people in more than one place.’
And while I’m happy to be home, to ease into a different pace for the moment, take a break and reconnect with family and friends.. Melbourne, you mad, eccentric, rich, warm, and outrageously expensive at times, fun and ridiculous place. You will always have a part of my heart. To my Australian friends, If you think I
217;ve forgotten you or don’t have time for you, please don’t ever think that. I’m just trying to find my balance over here. Bear with me. Don’t worry, I will be back someday.