I moved to Australia on the 4th of December 2004. I had just finished uni and gave myself enough time to reduce my belongings down to a suitcase and leave the country indefinitely. I was a fresh 22 and had no idea what lay ahead and to be honest, that was the whole point.

This year is coming up on my 19th year in Australia and in combination with turning forty last week I’ve spent a bit more time than normal dwelling on who I am and what I’m doing with my life. Not surprisingly I’ve always considered myself a kiwi living in Australia but I’ve started to wonder what will happen when I officially have lived in Australia longer than my other ‘home’ New Zealand.

Much like turning forty, living in Australia for nearly 20 years has crept up on me. Since I never had a plan when I moved here, I’ve very much just swam with the current. Job to job and relationship to relationship, I just moved with the eb and flow that is life’s journey. It is only now, as I edge closer to having lived more years in Australia than New Zealand that I’m starting to ask questions about it.

Questions like what happens when I live in Australia, with an Australian husband and two Australian kids? How much of a kiwi am I then. Does it matter that I haven’t been in the country for two and a half years? Does it matter that I’ve nearly forgotten all the Māori words for colours in the rainbow song? The other day I even called a chilly bin an Eski and didn’t even notice.

What happens if I live in Australia for the rest of my life? Can you still call yourself a kiwi if you don’t really intend to return? And even if we did return, what would that be like? I had a good friend move back during the pandemic and it's taken her a good 12 months to readjust. New Zealand wasn't the same place she left 12 years ago. People and places change so much that your memories are just that. Memories. Not true representations of what a place is like now.

After you’ve been away for that long, people can be suspicious of your return. It can take a while for the locals to accept their own lost children. Most people I know haven’t moved back to their hometowns for this reason. There is too much expectation (and baggage) to move back to the place you spent your teenage years and early 20s. The people who remained have lived entire lives in your absence.

Mum and Dad were just visiting from New Zealand for my birthday. They’re in the middle of moving from Wellington to Christchurch after 30 years in the North Island. Newly retired they are heading back to where they started - the South Island of New Zealand. The pull south is strong for them both and it has been a fairly easy decision. This is where they were always heading.

Now when I return ‘home’ to New Zealand it won’t necessarily be to Wellington, where I grew up - it might be to Christchurch, Dunedin or Queenstown even. What does that mean then? Does it just confirm that it is more about the people than the location? 

Coincidentally I’m going to Wellington this weekend - I’m probably on the plane as you are reading this blog thanks to scheduling software. It is not just my 40th this year but it has been all of my high school friends as well. To celebrate we’re going out for dinner - a rather expensive dinner in my case but it makes up for all the missed trips during Lockdowns. Only 3 of us live outside of New Zealand and most of us are back for the weekend. I’m excited about the event but also nervous. 

Have I been out of the country too long? Have I been too far removed to pick up where we left off? While the majority of my friends have been close over the years, am I now the Aussie blow in? How do I feel about that? I’m a kiwi in Ballarat but not when I’m in New Zealand, surrounded by actual live-in kiwis.

These questions have been bugging me for some time now and it only gets more confusing the more years I spend living aboard. For a long time I had considered it a negative to be Australian. Sorry Australian family - but if you’ve met me then you’ll understand that a lot of my personality (and accent) are quintessentially ‘kiwi’. 

I love being from New Zealand - even though it puts me at the punchline of some lame New Zealand jokes, and awkward introductions explaining that my name is ‘Jess’, not ‘Jiss’.  I’m proud I’m from New Zealand. I love my New Zealand passport and I will always call New Zealand home. Even if I don’t ever live there again. It’s so much a part of me that it’s impossible to ignore.

What has happened recently is the softening of my attitude towards Australia. Ever since the kids got their Australian Passports my relationship to the land changed. No longer am I just a permanent resident, I’m the mother of actual Australians (ha, dragons). Not just by birth but by culture. My children look and sound like any other Aussie kids, but they are my Aussie kids. 

After years of struggling with which side of the Tasman I pledge my allegiance to, it has become clear, like most problems in life, that it doesn’t really matter. I’m a New Zealander living in Australia with my Australian family. Instead of trying to fight it I am learning to embrace it. My connection to Australia is meaningful and so important to me. To celebrate this new appreciation I have for my other home I shouted myself a birthday tattoo.

The Wattle is an Australian native that is one of the first plants to flower in spring. They line the track that I run along in Ballarat and their explosion of bright yellow, Dr Seuss style pom-poms are a sign that we are finally on the up. Ballarat winters are notoriously grim and the wattles are a reminder that nothing lasts forever.  

While I’m not quite ready to get my Australian Citizenship - which to be honest, I really need to do! My tattoo is just a nod to the country I’m currently calling home. I’m exposing my kids to as much Kiwi Culture as I can. Sometimes it's in small ways like insisting that they use the word ‘jandals’ and not thongs and sometimes it's in larger ways like celebrating Matariki as a family. 

I can’t wait to go back to New Zealand this weekend - who knows, I could even be there right now! I feel lucky that my home spans an ocean and it is filled with so many wonderful people. What a bloody fantastic position to be in!

Video of the week
Tim and Eric just toning out
Podcast of the week
Board Radio: The Truth about being childless
Font of the week
Nostra: Font of the week by Lucas Descroix

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