So, this is my first ever post written for Wrestling with Wanderlust from Melbourne, Australia, and let me tell you, I wasn’t ever expecting to be writing it ten months after we landed. To recap for any readers who might be new, in November 2013 I moved from the UK, my home of twenty-seven years, to Melbourne, Australia, with my partner P. We had met three years earlier in a Japanese evening class in the city of Oxford where I moved in 2007 to complete my Master’s degree.
I have had a fascination with Australia for as long as I can remember, I’m not sure where it sprang from entirely but I’m probably going to blame watching Crocodile Dundee and The Rescuers Down Under too much as a child. The early nineties were a time when the whole of the UK was pretty much having a massive love affair with the Land Down Under, and I was growing up right in the middle of it. Australia was just a huge exotic land that was so far away from everything I knew. The sun shone all the time and there were vast stretches of beach everywhere according to Neighbours and Home and Away. The men fell into two camps – floppy haired, bronzed, fun-loving surfer dudes or sexy and brooding Outback dwellers who had muscles and accents to die for. The wildlife was unique and exciting, not to mention deadly.
I’ve wanted to visit since I was sixteen, but this really hitched up a gear for me when a friend of mine from college set off to Oz not long after we finished our A-levels. She fell in love with the country and ended up visiting every year for quite some time after that. I’ve nearly applied for a Working Holiday Visa myself on four separate occasions, but each time I’ve been held back for different reasons – lack of confidence, no one to travel with, lack of money, gaining a place at university or just generally not being in the right place. I always knew I would get here one day, I just never expected I would actually emigrate. Emigration always seemed to be something that happened to other people – families with decent incomes and good jobs selling up to chase the sun abroad, taking their children with them. I thought I would perhaps move abroad as part of a study abroad scheme, or maybe for a year or two as a Working Holidaymaker. I had researched the prospect quite avidly during the last year of my undergraduate degree, attending talks on both JET and BUNAC. Naturally, most people assumed I had visited Australia before when I revealed my plan to take the leap Down Under with P. I hadn’t. The first time my feet ever touched Australian soil was on the 15th November 2013 when our plane landed at Tullamarine Airport. Is that crazy? Maybe. Quite a lot of my friends certainly thought so.
So what on earth happened? I set up Wrestling with Wanderlust with the aim of it being a record of what P and I were going through during the Partner Visa application process, and, if we were successful, the big move itself. In the lead up to applying, I had scoured the internet for information on emigrating to Australia on a Partner visa. Though I found some useful sources, there was nothing that really went into the detail I wanted. Promising blogs I followed from other Partner Visa candidates frustratingly stopped updating the moment they actually made the move. I resolved I would write a blog myself, giving the kind of information I had wanted to know to other future visa candidates. I wanted to help others make the jump. This went well for quite a while – I even blogged a few times after my visa was granted in June last year – but then, just over a year ago, I did the exact same thing. Our departure date, declared by my handy blog countdown, came and went. Aside from updating my About Page in January, I have stayed away from my blog. I’ve just been unable to write.
Shouldn’t I have started regaling you all with the perfect awesomness of our life from the moment we touched down? Written about perfect sunny days and blue skies whilst my friends were slogging through the inevitable sleet-soaked bracing British winter? Shouldn’t I have been making you curse me from your keyboards as I bragged everything was just like it is on TV? Australia is paradise personified, my flat is perfect and new friends have poured out of the woodwork for both P and I?
I can’t even describe how crazy, life-changing and unfortunately, questioning, the past few months have been. Ever since I left work in October 2013 and then boarded that plane not even a month later it has felt like someone has pressed fast forward on my life. The last few days in the UK zipped by in an instant, time no longer meant anything. There were two goodbye parties, several meals with some of the lovely friends P and I have made, tearful goodbyes, and some very humbling leaving presents from both my family and friends. Touching down in Melbourne brought a dizzying, almost euphoric, rush. I was here. This distant country of my daydreams was real. Australia. My feet were on Australian soil at last. I wasn’t dreaming anymore. I wanted to burst and could have probably flown myself out of that airport. It was an emotional reunion for P, he shed tears as he returned home to his waiting family – real flesh and blood people, no longer seen in photographs or as grainy pixels on Skype with tinny voices.
My first views of Australia were blanked in darkness as we drove to P’s father’s flat, our home for our first two and a half months in Melbourne. I remember craning to see out of the window – I’m not sure what I was expecting. Red earth? Kangaroos? Exotic plants? I just saw roads and homes – which looked very American. The first months were completely surreal. I felt like Alice as she fell down the rabbit hole. Was I really here? Had it all actually happened? The stress, the frantic panic as time ticked away was gone. We were sleeping in P’s father’s spare room and all the possessions I had in the world fitted into one suitcase. I was introduced to the local area, trams, the rainbow-hued dollars I was now meant to take seriously, and the Oyster Card’s poor cousin, the Myki. The weather didn’t disappoint and I exulted in wearing dresses in November. So. Weird. P took me into the city most days and we saw the sights – the Botanical Gardens, the Old Melbourne Goal, Melbourne Museum, the Queen Victoria Market, Luna Park, St. Kilda. We spent Christmas Day on the beach, amongst cheerful people basking in the warmth with Santa hats firmly planted on their heads. I managed to get horribly sun burnt and spent the next few weeks looking like a lobster.
Then things started to turn.
Since moving into our own place in February P and I have faced, among other things, long-term unemployment (it took me eight months to get a job), job loss (P was fired from the job he had held since December in June), culture-shock (yes, really), depression, loneliness, isolation, and rejection. I watched my precious nest-egg of savings whittle away to nothing, by the time I got my current job in July I had precisely $30 (£16 aprox.) left in my account. We were plunged into the unknown and the threat of losing our four-month old flat was very real. There were screaming matches, anger, and a lot of disillusionment on my part. I feared a return of my depression when one particular day, I was unable to get of bed. I looked at flights home – often – and basically felt like the biggest fool on the planet. I’d been sucked in by lies…this was no better than home. P and I were still struggling to survive and I found myself walking the streets handing in my CV to whoever I could get to take it. There were very dark times as I lay awake in the early morning lamenting my stupidity and inability to be happy with my lot in the UK. The night P lost his job, I screamed obscenities from my balcony, cursing Australia and hating myself. Australia had lied to me, and I was finding Melbourne, the friendliest city in the world apparently, very, very, cold (literally and metaphorically!).
Things are better now, I’ve been working for just over two months and though full-time work was not in my original plan, I’m enjoying it. P has a new job which he too is happy in, and we are now both earning more than we ever have before. Our flat isn’t a complete hovel – not like where we lived previously – but it’s not a palace either, rather a work in progress. We do have a balcony though. 🙂 It’s not sunny all the time, in fact this winter has been bloody cold, but the weather is an improvement on the UK. We’re still finding our feet, and things still aren’t perfect, but we’re here. As a child, I loved a fantasy. Now I get to experience and fall in love with the real Australia, a living, breathing, country which isn’t perfect, but is at least based in reality.
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