From London To Melbourne
This article originally appeared in TAT Girl – Issue 2, Published 7th November 2013
From London To Melbourne
It’s not every day your world is literally turned upside down by an email. But on a drizzly July day, this was the case for me, as a glance over my Mum’s shoulder as she typed an email revealed a planned move to Australia.
At the time, we were simply British tourists visiting Melbourne for a holiday. Or so I had thought. After bursting into a sea of tears that rivaled the torrential rain outside, Mum explained that the “holiday” had actually been a chance for them to look at houses, jobs and schools.
I had a little under six months to get over the shock of leaving London and prepare for the new and better life promised to us in Australia. Having had very little experience of what life was like in the country down under save for a few episodes of Neighbors, I was clueless as to what to expect.
In England, Australia is often spoken about like a distant cousin – after all English is the main language and it’s part of the same happy commonwealth family. But nothing could have quite prepared me for just what a culture shock I would get when I arrived.
It’s no secret that the English long for the sun and beaches that we are so deprived of at home, instead lumbered with grey skies and constant drizzle. The only problem is that we’re so unused to it, our bodies just can’t handle it. Stepping off the plane at Melbourne Airport, the first thing that hit me was the heat. Thick, humid and ugly – it was the hottest heat wave in the last few years and it had arrived the same day I did. How convenient. I found it so hot that I physically couldn’t be outside for more than five minutes at a time, unless I wanted my pale English skin a nice lobster red. Even now, mum still tries to make us wear sun-cream in any weather over 15 degrees.
And then we discovered just how true the saying “Melbourne gets four seasons in one day” actually is. Dressing for low temperatures and rain in the morning only to have it almost 30 degrees by lunch, certainly took some adjusting to.
Even doing something simple as the food shop reminded us just how far we were from home. The supermarket was filled with products totally foreign to us – Tim Tams and Milo, what the hell are they!? – when all we longed for was our familiar home comforts. Dad was perhaps the most horrified – instead of his beloved Marmite jars lining the shelves he was confronted by its Australian sibling -Vegemite. He still refuses to have it in the house.
Starting school in Australia was perhaps the hardest step to overcome. Used to a strict all-girls private school, I found myself in a mixed school, set in what looked like acres of bush, with vibrantly coloured parrots flying out from the trees.
It was not long until my first up-close encounter with Australian wildlife. On my second day at school, a possum fell through the roof of the classroom I was in. Everyone else seemed entirely nonchalant about the whole event, either remaining seated or trying to prevent the animal from leaving the classroom. I, meanwhile, was screaming and out the classroom door before anyone could stop me.
I had assumed I had nothing to worry about when it came to speaking, feeling lucky that at least my parents had picked a country that spoke the same language. One conversation in and I was lost. English slang that I used every day was met by blank, confused faces while alien Australian phrases went completely over my head, not to mention the intense concentration it took to decode the lilting Australian accent. At least I fared better than my mum, who quickly learnt that the saying “I was just rooting through my drawers” (as in looking for something in a clothes drawer) has very different implications in Australia.
It’s now over five years since the move, (and I’ve still got my accent!) but those first few months adapting to a new life in a new country were some of the hardest of my life. Initially I resented my parents for “ruining” the life I knew in England, and taking me away from everything I had ever known.
Now, with retrospect, I can’t thank them enough.
It’s certainly an entirely different culture – one that revolves around sport, the outdoors, being easy going, carefree and enjoying life. Yes, ‘G’Day mate’ really is an acceptable and common greeting, but contrary (and quite disappointingly!) to what I originally believed, kangaroos don’t roam the streets nor is everyone blonde and a surfer.
Growing up in two different countries has often left me feeling torn and confused about which to call home and where I belong. I’ve lived the majority of my life in England, but most of my growing up has been in Australia – forming friendships, relationships and passing some of the most important milestones like finishing school and starting university. Australia has given my family and I so many opportunities and experiences we never could have had otherwise.
On Australia Day this year, we received our Australian citizenship. It didn’t hit me until the morning of the ceremony just how emotional I felt about the process, especially when thinking back to those early days. Becoming an Australian citizen signified a huge step in accepting just how much I loved both Australia and England and that I didn’t have to choose between the two. As a dual citizen, I can feel at home in two different but incredible places, both which have shaped me into who I am today. So while I now know that Australians put more “snags” than shrimps on the barbie, I still prefer them served up in a good old Full English breakfast with “ketchup”. We’re getting there.