Sarah Britten
Sarah Britten

Back to Australia

I’m typing this as I sit in the airport. I’ve been bawling ever since I said goodbye to my parents at the Gautrain and the waterworks have been going like a burst mains on and off ever since. Some of the strangers passing me might have noticed the tears streaming down my face and assumed I’ve just parted from a lover. It’s much, much more complicated than that.

For four years, I have not allowed myself to think about Australia. Not really. Yes, it always hovered there in the past, a part of my story, the one I started blogging about when I first started writing for Thought Leader. I tried not to dwell on it. Forrest Gump’s mother was wrong: life is not like a box of chocolates. It’s much more like riding a bicycle. If you don’t keep going, you fall over.

But I’ve been forced to think about it again, because my permanent residence visa expires at the end of March, which means that either I have to move there permanently in the next 10 days, or give up the right to live there. I’m travelling there now because there are loose ends to be tied up, things that involve going into bank branches with my passport, and that means I have to get onto a Qantas plane and go there in person.

It also means confronting things I’ve been putting off for years. Quite frankly, I’m terrified of the uncomfortable and awkward feelings this will trigger. Nothing is worse than having to make choices. Life is so much easier when they are made for us.

For those of you who don’t know, the past five years can be summarised as death-emigration-retrenchment-reverse emigration-divorce-panic attacks-severe depression-slow and painful recovery. Australia brings all of this flooding back. To explain, because these things always need explaining: I emigrated to Australia because my husband wanted to go; he needed my five points to qualify for a permanent residence visa. I moved to Sydney in May 2008 under strange and difficult circumstances; the sudden death of my mother-in-law meant my husband couldn’t move with me, and for seven months I lived alone). I loved my life in Australia, exploring a different part of the city every weekend and starting a collection of Australian insults to force myself to study up on the local culture.

But there was a recession and I was made redundant and everything fell apart. After that, I spent a lot of time lying on the floor in my apartment in Mosman sobbing. Then I got on a plane back to South Africa and vowed never to look back.

Apart from sorting out my bank accounts which trail like threads from a frayed hem, I’ll be visiting Melbourne and Adelaide. The latter is a little off the usual tourist track, but it’s where JM Coetzee lives, and I want to try and understand the attraction. I’ll visit my Twitter namesake in the Taronga Zoo and explore my old haunts in Mosman. Maybe I’ll meet my ex-husband for a drink at the Opera Bar, the way we said we would when we got divorced, though I don’t know if I can actually face it. Too much water under that particular Harbour Bridge.

My journey to Australia and back is inextricably entwined with this blog and its readers. I’ll be documenting the trip as a Mampoer Short, and it will be available as an ebook in a couple of months’ time. It’s only part of the story; if this episode does well, I’ll write more. We’ll see.

If you want to read more, you can check out my Trekking Across Gondwanaland blog here.

People say: “Have a lovely trip!” like it’s a holiday, but it isn’t. It’s a journey to a whole lot of places I don’t want to particularly go, but must. Anyhow, the other economy-class passengers are being called, and I must go. I’m in 69G; I hope there’s nobody next to me.

Just to make it clear, writing this isn’t about getting anyone’s approval, or asking you to agree or disagree. Emigration is an emotive issue for people on both sides of the fence; I’m sure I’ll be getting lots of hate mail.

This is just my story. It is what it is. Because in the end, all we have are our stories and all we can do is tell them as best we can.

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