Thursday, 9 June 2011

Some thoughts on moving and settling in Australia

Moving from the UK to Australia is relatively easy as big moves go.
Yes it's literally the other side of the world, but the language is (kind of) the same,
you can drive on the same side of the road, the food is similar,
the education system is not that different,
and to top it all the sun shines most days.

However...when you move away from your home to another country you leave behind a lot of your history. Your whole sense of  'belonging' shifts and it takes a while to get used to the fact that you have only existed in this new place for such a short space of time.
 Everything that you have done up to this point was part of something else.
Your home, your career, your education, your family traditions...
what feels like your whole identity belongs elsewhere.

It takes a little while to get used to the fact that when you go to the local shop no-one knows you.
When you drive around the place, no-one waves in recognition.

You feel invisible for a while...

Keeping in touch with your old life is a roller coaster - you want to hold onto everything that you know and that is familiar, yet you realise that you have to learn to live with new new surroundings.

This was a big challenge for me... At certain times of year and when events happen thousands of kilometres away, the challenge returns.

Our move here was a positive one. We tested the place out for a year, liked what we saw, took a little while to weigh up the situation and made a decision to move based on the belief that it was a good place to bring up a family. There was no 'running away' from our old life, no feelings of having to escape. In fact, we were very happy living in rural England and enjoying small town and village life. Leaving that behind for something even better was bound to be a challenge.

However, it struck me recently that I have begun to settle here...
Slowly but surely I now feel part of this community.

I walk to school in the mornings and experience the odd wave from a passing car. I know the back roads and short cuts to places. My phone contacts include a painter, plumber and joiner!  I have work colleagues again, and friendships that I trust and treasure.
There is no magic time frame or formula to feeling settled in a place.
It -just -takes- time....

Even though for the foreseeable future Australia is my home, I don't want to let go of my old life - it is part of who I was, who I am, and who I'll always be. My challenge now is to hold onto it and keep the memory of 'life before Australia' alive for my daughter's sake.

You see, my history is entwined with Wales and being Welsh, and I was conscious when we lived in England that Sibs would not have the same exposure to this 'Welshness' that I had as a child. Now that we are here in Australia it's even more difficult to keep this as part of her life.
I continue to converse with her in Welsh but it pains me that her exposure is so limited. Once or twice recently she has asked me to repeat something in English...
Her life is an Australian life now - and I chose this for her so I can't really complain can I?
I think I am still having an internal battle with myself on how to accept this and to let her be the little Australian that she wants to be to fit in.
Of course I want her to feel settled here - to feel comfortable and secure. This is where she is creating her identity, but I also hope that she will have enough of an understanding of her heritage and history, (be that Welsh and English) so that as she grows up she feels some connection to that as well.

I wrote this post just over a week ago and never pressed 'publish'. I don't really know why, sometimes I write something and then it just doesn't feel right to 'put it out there.' Then something happened. On Tuesday night I went to the theatre and watched some talented dance students and choreographers put their souls into performances of contemporary dance. One piece was about a girl who struggled to find her identity as an Australian born Finn. The dance "Dirt" was the creative outcome of a Masters research project  - "Making Finnish connections with Aboriginal Land through Dance"

“This work emerged out of a desire to explore my connection to the land of my birth. I was born on Kalkadoon country, Australia and my cultural heritage is the Southern Savonia region and the Gulf of Finland. I am first generation Aussie born Finn.”
…Tiina Alinen

So much of the narrative that accompanied this powerful piece
and the messages portrayed in the dance struck a chord with me.
It made me think about the way that I am shaping Sibs's life; the way that I parent...
It made me question some things...

I don't want to change who I am and I don't want to change who Sibs is...
I just want her to understand where I came from, and for me to understand who she is
and to positively look forward to where she's going and who she'll become...


20 Comments and thoughts:

  1. I loved reading this Beth. As a 'new' Australian, you know that on this issue of belonging and identity and holding on to culture, you're walking a well trodden path. Australia is made up of people who came from somewhere else - and I think Sibs is really lucky to have your rich Welsh heritage to own and explore.

  2. I can really relate Beth. I have moved our family to three different (and far away) states in the past nine years. We have had to start over with friends and schools and just that sense of knowing where things are! Your daughter may want to fit in right now but there will be a time in her life when being Welsh will be more interesting and a treasure to her. Beautiful photos too!

  3. I love this post. I savoured every word and connected with it on so many levels. I have been here in the States almost 8 years and have only just started to settle. My mum was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis. Had this happened last year, I would be wanting to move home to look after her, but I'm starting to realise that my home is here now and I can't just run back to UK anymore. It's not that easy. So, like you I embrace my new home, but keep my 'home' alive here in everything I do. Living in a multicultural country like the US, I see people from all sorts of backgrounds doing exactly the same thing. At my daughters school I hear so many variations of 'Mummy'! Take care. So happy you did decide to post this. Lx

  4. Oh, a fascinating post, Beth. So beautifully written. And it's one I've been waiting for you to write! Sibs is so lucky to have you as her mum, thinking deeply about such important things. J x

  5. A very touching post Beth, you made me cry. I am very happy that you are beginning to settle into your new life. It's wonderful that you had an old life, it makes you a more complex and interesting, and I think more understanding person. Your daughter has a rich heritage which I am sure later in her life she will absolutely treasure. So glad you poured your soul out to us, we are all the richer for it. Lots of love Linda x

  6. A touching and well written post about such an important part of your life. I am sure your daughter will retain an interest in her Welsh heritage if you continue to keep it alive for her.

  7. Oh yes, the complex feelings of a migrant.... I am a Sibs. We moved to Oz when I was three and I can still hear my mother's frustration as my accent changed!! I feel very Australian even though I've moved a bit myself (wrote about that back in September and cried as I did! You should read Nikki Gemmell's book, Why I am Australian)...

    I also know what you mean about 'settling'... it just seems to dawn on me at about the nine month mark that I am settled. Then we usually seem to move!!!

  8. Hi Beth,
    Love this post, it's just beautiful! Although I never yet had my foot on Oz soil, to me, your life choice seems a good one. Australia is on my list for countries to move to, and like you, I can struggle with the thoughts of bringing my girls up in a country not their own. Zoe the youngest was even born here (ch) and she just now starts to understand that we are in Switzerland and our whole family is in the Netherlands, and that we speak Dutch and people here not... Glad you feel at home, I can only wish that soon we can live somewhere where I can settle and say the same words....
    Thanks so much for sharing this, a virtual hug,
    Maureen xx

  9. Beautiful post Beth. I lapped up every sentence. I feel very similiar with my relationship to Brisbane, and Darwin is in the same country.

  10. wow- beth- that was an incredibly moving, heart felt, very familiar to me post...
    your love for your welsh culture & your newly adopted australian culture is what will guide you here...

    i totally understand so many of your thoughts...TOTALLY...
    from the local people on your phone, to the waves in the street, to the new loved friendships....
    i also understand the need for *our* children to understand both ways of life...the two {or three} places that have shaped them into who they are...and will be...
    our youngest left australia when she was 2, and she just turned 6...i tell her tales of home constantly...she sounds english, but her heart was make in australia...
    my mother-in-law {a wonderful WELSH woman!} lives in Sydney...she has done so for 40 odd years, since falling in love with my australian father-in-law...but she hasn't given up her welsh citizenship...
    her heart has always been in two places...and her 4 beautiful children grew up knowing that...and it's been nothing but a blessing...

    give them all the parts of you...and let them show you the aussie parts of them...and then we can both have a glass or three across the waters together as our children become more worldly than we could ever have hoped for...
    Melissa xx

  11. Beth, my mum often quoted Khalil Gibran to me (particularly the bit about bows and arrows) when I wanted to go out clubbing late wearing something inappropriate, when I made career choices, when I left home, when I moved is an extract:
    On Children Kahlil Gibran

    Your children are not your children.
    They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.
    They come through you but not from you,
    And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

    You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
    For they have their own thoughts.
    You may house their bodies but not their souls,
    For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
    which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
    You may strive to be like them,
    but seek not to make them like you.
    For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

    You are the bows from which your children
    as living arrows are sent forth.
    The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
    and He bends you with His might
    that His arrows may go swift and far.
    Let your bending in the archer's hand be for gladness;
    For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
    so He loves also the bow that is stable.

    It doesn't matter where you live, what language you speak, your love for Sibs is the most important thing, she may grapple with her cultural heritage or swim smoothly in its waters but love knows no boundaries and she will always take strength from that.

  12. Yesterday in the
    car my daughter was
    telling me how much
    she loves the Welsh
    language. The world
    has become a smaller
    place thanks to technology.
    I have a strong feeling
    that Sib's growing up
    will include all that
    you want it to, be it
    Australian, English or
    Welsh. Beautiful picture
    of you both!
    xx Suzanne

  13. Beth I am so happy that you now feel more "at home" here. I am sure that this has been a tumultuous journey for you and I know how hard it must have been for you because my mum did exactly the same thing 40 years ago. Like you, she calls Australia home but she still values the connection she has to England and that will never change and nor should it!

    Best wishes,

    PS I bet this cold and wintry weather we are having is a good reminder of why you love it out here!! Brrr

  14. What a lovely post. Great pics especially of the two of you. Thanks for sharing at Beach Cottage Good Life Wednesdays.

  15. What a wonderful post! I love that you want to retain your heritage for your daughter. It is a very important part of what defines are all going to love life here in Australia, such a wonderful place to raise children, and only ever a plane ride ( albeit a long one!)away! My mother is English and we regularly return to visit family and friends, even after all these years, we do however love living our new chapter here in Australia.

  16. What a wonderful post! I love that you want to retain your heritage for your daughter. It is a very important part of what defines are all going to love life here in Australia, such a wonderful place to raise children, and only ever a plane ride ( albeit a long one!)away! My mother is English and we regularly return to visit family and friends, even after all these years, we do however love living our new chapter here in Australia.

  17. Hi Beth, thanks for visiting and leaving lovely comments. Sorry I am just replying now. Love Linda x

  18. I can relate to this. I have a strong 'belonging' to Wales (especially when I go 'home' or see Y Ddraig Goch somewhere). But, Ioan was born in England, went to nursery in Holland before Kindergarten in Germany. Ollie was born in Holland and will go to school in Germany. He has no knowledge of Wales or England. I've been thinking recently about their identity, and will they condsider themselves to be British, German or European? Does it matter? I hope not...

    Claire S

  19. I didn't have a chance to read this post properly before now, and I'm so glad I came back and read it all properly. It's a great post, and it totally resonates with me too.
    I have massive up and down moments asking myself where my kids should grow up, and who they will become, culturally speaking. At times it seems like such a HUGE deal, but other times not so much, as long as they are happy. My Mum also used to quote the Kahlil Gibran poem to me! There's a great book by Nikki Gemmell called "Why you are Australian: A letter to my children" (or something along those lines). Highly recommend it. You could write the Welsh version! ;) Sibs is lucky to have you as her Mum, and I am sure she will grow to appreciate her Welsh heritage more and more.
    x Rhiannon

  20. Great thoughts you got there, believe I may possibly try just some of it throughout my daily life.
    Moving To Australia From UK