In 1999 enough was enough, and I, with my then-husband (I’ve got a new one now), couldn’t take the weather any longer. It was cold in summer, colder in winter and cold in-between. It seemed to rain constantly, and come winter, we didn’t get ‘real’ snow, just slush that made old people slip and fall. At six am, one of us had to scrape the frost from the windscreen in order to travel to work in the dark. The summer was better in that the light didn’t diminish until gone ten in the evening. But the summer was gone within the blink of an eye (or so it seemed), and the nights started to draw in again. I know let’s move to the other side of the world because the weather will be better, which of course will make everything else better and the kids can grow up on the beach. So I packed my family up, and off we went. To be honest, it wasn’t that simple; it took almost two years to get through the immigration system that Australia had in place, but I knew it would be worth it. So basing our decision mainly on the weather, off we went. What an adventure.
Leaving is another story – the heartache was a bit too much to bear for me – saying goodbye to friends and family has had a haunting effect on me.
I’ll never forget the day we arrived in Perth. After almost 24 hours in the air with a two-year-old and a four-year-old, we stepped of the plane expecting that welcome warm wind you get when you step off the plane for your two week holiday in Greece, but no, it was raining! We had arrived in August in the middle of winter! Oh well, this can’t last, but it did and proceeded to rain for the next 36 days. Everyone assured me that this had never happened before.
Winters in Australia came and went (17 years of them), and I grew fond of them. It was warmer than the UK. Some days it was like an English summer, and other days no better than the UK keeping us indoors for days at a time although it never did rain for 36 consecutive days again.
The summers were a different story. The summers I despised. The hottest months are December, January and February, which of course, was winter in England. At least we weren’t scraping ice from the car windows, no, not at all – instead, we were driving with our thumb and pointy fingertip only on the steering wheel because it was so bloody hot.
Some people would say it was a time for fun, sun and festive times. I would say it was a time for sweating, reaching for the sun cream and shade and not at all festive. It should be cold at Christmas – Christmas day should be spent around an open fire, playing charades and falling asleep to the music of the snowman not sitting on a beach, running from the ocean each time the shark alarm went off. I say running because the boiling hot sand scalded my feet because, as usual, I would forgot to take my flip flops down to the water’s edge. Also, did you know the word flip flops does not exist down under. Well it exists but not together meaning flimsy rubbery things you put on you feet. They use the word thong instead – ‘boys grab your thongs we are off to the beach’. You get used to it.
Still, I put a smile on my face and grinned and bared it. Well, until the mozzies decided to attack me – for some reason, it was me in the family they were attracted to. Cockroaches were the size of a child’s hand, and they could fly!!! It was an exhausting place to live in summer – most of the time due to sweating in the humidity, hot sleepless nights – how women going through menopause get on, I will never know. The view of our garden from the family room was lovely, but throughout the summer, the blinds were down, keeping the heat out, so we never did see it much. Oh, I forgot to mention that anything you left in the car on the drive, for instance, a pen, would have melted the next time you drove to the local shops to buy yet another fan. Yep we stayed inside more in the Aussie summer than we did through the UK winter.
Night-time was painful. If we did get to sleep, it was usually to the sound of a thousand buzzing insects. We had a ceiling fan, but I couldn’t have it on. I imagined it going faster and faster, flying off in the night and causing some horrific damage. I would take ice-cold showers in the night and for 10 mins feel comfortable and just start to nod off when the chorus of insects suddenly got louder, and my skin dried and became hot again.
I don’t want it to sound all negative. It just wasn’t for me in the end. I used to love hearing the man on the telly saying – it is going to be a scorcher – all week! I loved making plans to go to a friends house at the weekend for drinks – particularly if they had a pool. Waiting to open the windows in the late afternoon when the sea breeze came in was heavenly. I cooked an egg on the pavement once just to see if it would – and it did. Remembering my then-husband opening the car windows and saying, ‘air-cons on’ – still makes me smile. Shouting Kangaroo every time we saw one. Going to the shops in your swimmers and boardies (swimming costume and beach shorts for you poms) Going to the beach after 5 in the afternoon to cool down. The boys hoping for a ‘hot day’ at school so they could come home – it had to reach 40 degrees. Seeing the boys jump in the pool when they did get home from school. Buying entire trays of mangoes and eating them whole. Escaping to the shopping centre because it was so cool – even needed a cardi. The delicious Aussie accent – crikey, mate! Shortening every word that could be shortened or if not just add vowel – usually an O – let us go for a smoko or what you up to this arvo. So many words I no longer hear – G’day, mate, dinkum, bloke, sheila, barbie, ocker, digger, esky, Maccas or the phrase – she’ll be right. Particular swear words used to greet someone and being referred to as a Pom – I don’t miss that. I loved working for the community Newspaper as a photographer (well once they got over the fact I was a woman) and being part of the Camera Club. I was given the opportunity to travel to the Pilbara alone. I was so scared but I did it. Spending 10 days travelling and meeting people, making pictures for an organisation called, ‘Frontier Services’. I worked on short film sets which I’ll never forgot. There is so much creativity in Perth if you go looking for it.
The landscape was breathtaking, the light exquisite and the hail the size of golf balls. One year everyone’s car in Perth was damaged within the same 5 minutes by tennis ball sized hail. Panel beaters made a fortune.
My boys were raised in Perth – so they’re three quarter Aussie. I wouldn’t change this. They have great friends who I miss too and they received the best education with some of the best teachers – I’ll never forget Mr and Mrs Sweet who inspired my boys. And at one point we were involved with the WA Circus scene – twice a week I drove to Fremantle and watched them juggle, balance, bounce and hang from high ropes.
Perth people are friendly, some I call my best friends and leaving was was just as hard as when I left the UK – emotionally agonising.
After my divorce it was time to return to good old Blighty. Me and Perth were never a fit. Some said I would regret the decision. I haven’t.
Returning has meant I’m now married again to a man I adore. I’ve watched my boys finish their education here and discover London. I haven’t taken anything for granted, especially the weather. I no longer get fed up with the drizzle, wind and cold – although one at a time would be better. I love walking in the rain now. I don my wellies, and I jump in puddles. I even tolerate the cold – I just dress appropriately. I know after a long winter walk in whatever weather comes my way (sometimes every season in an hour), I’ll get in, and my husband will smile and say as I take off my woolly hat, knowing I look like I’ve just been dragged through a hedge backwards, ‘you even look beautiful in your bedraggled state’. He will pop the kettle on a make me a huge big mug of hot chocolate, and I will find a book or tv show and spend the rest of the day not feeling guilty about staying inside.
I adore the patchwork fields, rolling hills, deep green forests, and, yes, bright blue seascapes. Yes, we have mountains and I walked up one on my 50th birthday – Snowdon. Wonderful woodlands, brilliant beaches and charming countryside to explore. We have chocolate box villages houses with colourful window boxes and bunting hanging from lamp posts, all hoping to win the prettiest village of the year. We have cities full of culture, history and diversity. We have tea and crumpets, pubs with grub and Michelin star restaurants. We have a world-renowned pop culture – the Beatles, Elton John, David Bowie, Queen, The Stones, Pink Floyd, oh yes and David Attenborough – let us face it if he brought a tune out, it would go straight to number one. We have Europe on our doorstep! We have the BBC – Country-file followed by the antiques road show on Sunday evening – bliss. And we have the NHS!
However, we are most likely disappointed, but we always anticipate snow at Christmas.
I missed all of the above and my friends and family with who I have re-connected with. The friends I still see from school who know everything about me and what I went through moving to the other side of the world and how hard it was coming back too. It was a risk, and there was a moment there when I thought I’d made a mistake, but that passed, and I’m now home. I miss my Aussie family and friends, but what I didn’t have when I moved there were social media – not even a mobile phone. Having those things now has made life easier because I can message and talk to my Aussies mates whenever they or I need to. I see their faces, and I smile and am thankful for the wonderful experiences Australia gave me.
My advice to anyone thinking of moving to another country – DO IT. I don’t regret a single minute. I am who I am because of it. I am glad to be back, but boy, I’m glad I went because, well, it’s the people that make a place, not the weather.
Funny, but I now love scraping the ice off the car window – it makes me smile.
What lovely images you’ve described, Hazel. After the scorcher of a summer that we’ve experienced in Western Australia, I would give nearly anything to be scraping the ice off our car’s windscreen. Xxx
Thanks Kate. Well you are always welcome here xx
Well written Hazel but your view of Australia is entirely different to mine, having been here for the last fifty years you can guess I love it. I think things have changed a lot since you were here, everything is air conditioned, houses cars shops,caravans, so on very hot days we stay indoors as you do in the winter. I have never heard a shark alarm, and I have never seen a cockroach as big as you described, but I do admit England is beautiful and your photos of the English countryside are beautiful So all in all it’s good we both love where we live 😘
Hi Ann I guess we all see things differently. I did use a little artistic licence 😘. Yes we had air con but it never worked in one of our cars which sticks with me and in the house it always triggered my asthma. I love Australia I just didn’t want to stay forever and I hope that came over. I’ll never forget your kindness when the boys were little. You and Tim were two of my favourites. Always will be x
Evocative word pictures there, thanks Hazel. We can find beauty in everything, even the mundane acts such as ice scraping, it just takes the right perspective. Oh, and as Billy Connolly said, “there’s no such thing as bad weather, only the wrong clothes”, though if you’re a ginger in the blazing sun then you have it a bit tougher than most.
And I was that ginger lol. Thanks Chris totally with Billy about the wrong clothes and yes I try to see the beauty in everything. X
Such a beautiful read, Hazel! I didn’t realize you capture the most beautiful photographs in words as well. I enjoyed reading every bit of it. You are such a talented lady x
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