I just waved my eight-year-old son goodbye as he boarded a bus for his first ever school camp. One week into school in Australia and he was herded away to Aldinga Beach, an hour or so from the city, to run free and learn in the great outdoors. It’s all part of being an Aussie.
Every morning at school drop-off, these robust little kids are running and jumping and chasing each other, or playing one of many organised sports. Every girl in our daughter’s first-grade class has a skipping rope tucked beneath the desk to use before school and at recess. Sitting still isn’t an option.
It all fits the romantic notions about Australia, especially among Americans. From the worn out stereotypes of kangaroos bounding along city streets and Foster’s drinking blokes throwing shrimp on a barbie, Australia holds a sort of mystique from far away. Our New York friends, while sad to see us go, were excited for our brave move down under. Everyone wants to visit and everyone probably would, if it weren’t so far away.
But as recent arrivals – sit still, we do. So far it has rained almost daily since we got here in July, soaring electricity costs make us too scared to blast the heat as much as we’d like, and neither my husband nor I has found a job. With no income to speak of and no entitlement to assistance because apparently the Australian Government deems us rich, morale has its ups and downs.
We’ve endured reams of paperwork and probing questions only to be told that money in a bank, no matter how inaccessible, a part share in a house we cannot live in yet and the fact that we could get jobs any day, trump years of paying taxes in both Australia and the US and the absence of a pay check.
Every time we walk out of a store, sticker shock follows us. Everything costs a lot more than we’re use to paying. Even long-time Australia dwellers are balking at rising food, gas and utility prices. Basics like bananas go for around $3 a piece and green beans top out around $18 a kilo – or almost $9 a pound. The good life sure is pricey.
Still, here I am 40-something, married and mother of two back in my parents’ immaculate house after more than 20 years of independence. Perched at the dining room table, I feel a bit like an aged Carrie Bradshaw of Sex and the City, banging out resume updates and introduction letters in improbable surrounds ( how did she ever afford a Manhattan studio and Jimmy Choos on a columnist’s wage?)
To be sure, the folks are thrilled to have us back in Adelaide – as delighted as they are petrified every time a beloved grandchild swings a backpack and narrowly misses some pricey collectible or “accidentally” picks all the unripe lemons and stomps the onion patch.
The question we’re asked by pretty much everyone we meet is, why? Why on earth would you move from New York City – bright lights, big city, songs written about it, movies made just to showcase its vibrancy – to Adelaide? Adelaide, a sleepy city barely bigger than a country town, with lots of green space and nearly as many churches as people. Why indeed?
For family and for lifestyle mostly. We figured it was time to slow life down a little, smell the roses that bloom in Adelaide gardens and let the kids run free in the parklands and on the beaches, with cousins and perhaps a dog in tow. We wanted to own a house and a have a garden where we could cook out on a warm evening, and all sit around the dinner table together.
All in Good Time
And soon enough the sun will shine and the kids will get the beach and park time they moved for. We’ll find jobs too, I’m sure of it. We just have to adjust our timing from New York standards where emails are answered pronto to Adelaide’s more relaxed schedule. And soon enough we’ll be able to rip up old carpets, paint walls and move into our own little home.
For now, the coffee is good, the clean country air is a mere 15 minutes “up the hill” as the locals say, the kids are happily settling into a lovely school and we are still charmed by the many people we meet and the warmth and friendliness they show us; from the boys in the local coffee shop we’ve made part of our morning ritual, to the toothless old man I met at the weekend farmers’ market. He explained to me the pros of eating Australian olive oil and beamed with pride talking about his famous ballerina daughter.
Our waterlogged son will have his own stories to share when he slumps home from three rainy days at the beach, where he was to learn to paint a boomerang, cook on an open fire and negotiate friendships with a new crew of teachers and classmates.
As the lyrics go if you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere. Let’s see if Adelaide is our “anywhere”.