10 Years ago we boarded a plane from Africa and landed at Perth airport about 9 ½ hours later, walked out the airport into the late January heat feeling quite insignificant. The realisation that we knew no-one made this family feel a bit lost and it hit home as we walked into the “Arrivals” hall amidst people being welcomed and greeted by family, friends or business associates, not knowing anyone and subduedly making our way out the door to find a taxi. Arriving at our short-term rented apartment in the city the exhausted and jet-lagged kids fell asleep sitting up in chairs in the middle of the day while Ironman went out to organise a rental car and so our first week went by in a blurr of organising all the logistics of settling down in a new place with my husband having started his new job and the kids and I driving from one possible rental house to the next looking for one that would meet our requirements. We’d timed our arrival so the kids would be able to start the new school year which left us with 10 days to find a suitable school as well as a house to rent in the same suburb which proved to be a challenge in the middle of a mining boom and accommodation shortage but we managed to sign the lease for a nice house on the Friday afternoon and on Monday morning the kids started school on the first day of the new school year together with all the other kids. Two big and very important boxes were ticked.
As we’d said our farewells to friends in South Africa they would jokingly talk about the “honeymoon period” of a move to a new country such as we were doing being about three months, but having moved to Dubai just under a year prior and absolutely loving the adventure of that I felt like the honeymoon period was over when our plane landed in Perth. Being uprooted twice in under 12 months to move continents, settle down, make friends, ensure the kids are happy and doing well at school, finding substitute products in the shops to the ones you were used to, finding a hairdresser who cut my hair the way I liked it and all the rest of it, didn’t come naturally for someone who loves being in their comfort zone but I knew that this move was best for my family so I was determined to make it work. During our visit here in August 2004 while I was still grappling with the idea of having to move away from Dubai where we’d just settled a few months prior and the exotic adventure of which we were thoroughly enjoying I was under so much pressure from my husband to like Perth that I broke down in tears one day telling him exactly that: “You’re putting too much pressure on me to like it” but walking down Hay Street, Perth, another day during that visit I realised that I would be able to live in this city and that I would be able to make it work and knowing that was enough for me at that stage. I knew that the lifestyle would be better for the kids and the whole family in the long run.
Looking back, the first year was definitely the hardest but we made good, lasting friends who became our “Perth family” over time. We found the people of Perth to be very friendly, welcoming and accepting with a great sense of humour and got used to driving on the left-hand side of the road once again, everyone driving strictly at 100km/h on the freeway (after the manic speeds on the roads of Dubai), the green of the Eucalyptus which was very different to the bright and lively green of the oaks and plane trees in Stellenbosch which was one of the things I missed at first, the idea of not knowing when exactly we’ll see our family again, hearing many different accents around you every day, total fires bans during summer because of the extreme bush fire risk, and Vegemite. I only made one illegal U-turn (in my defence, I didn’t know it was illegal) and got pulled over for it by the police – much to my absolute distress, being someone who likes to do the right thing – but they accepted my explanation that in Dubai U-turns are the order of the day and a very large part of the traffic system. Having given up a work-life of accounts, financial statements, various types of tax returns, payrolls, monthly financial reports, spreadsheets and intricate cash flow forecasts built on different variables to being a stay-at-home-mum in exciting Dubai where everything was new and interesting and something as simple as picking up the kids from school was an excursion because of the distance, traffic and some crazy road users to contend with, to being a stay-at-home mum in a quiet Perth suburb where everything worked in an orderly manner as it should, it quickly felt like my world had shrunk to a triangle of going from home to school to the supermarket and back home and repeating the same day after day, and it didn’t take me long to feel a bit claustrophobic but after a weekend away in beautiful Yallingup and Margaret River after about four months I felt like my horizons had expanded and I could breathe again. With all of Ironman’s travels for work he didn’t experience this problem but instead found interesting places of exquisite natural beauty for us to visit as a family which we started doing as soon as time and budget allowed and before I knew it I’d fallen in love with the splendour that the Western Australian coastline and bush offers. The beautiful, clean beaches; colour of the water whether it be the crisp, clear Southern Ocean around Esperance and Albany or the warm, turquoise waters of Broome; the unique charm, beauty and magnetism of Rottnest Island that makes you never want to leave there; the red pindan sand of the Kimberley, age-old forests of the South-West and the vast open spaces. I love being in the countryside and still have the need to get out of the city every now and then and breathe some fresh air and I’m lucky to have the opportunity of so many great places to visit and many more gems of places yet to see. I discovered that one could actually live anywhere as long as your family was safe and healthy. I also realised that I only missed certain things (other than family and friends of course) about our life in South Africa when I actually stopped to think about those particular things (which didn’t happen every day), but when I did a deep yearning for some of those things and places would overcome me and I couldn’t help but wonder if I’d ever visit a specific spot again and I’d miss the very distinct vibe that is so colourfully part and parcel of the rainbow nation and I learnt that a photo of an African dawn or sunset still pulls at the heartstrings like no other, but life keeps us busy and there was no time or point in longing for something that wasn’t a part of my daily life as it was at that point, dwell on it or mope about it. I have been very fortunate in that my family (near and far) are all in good health but we do miss them and have to remind ourselves that lots of people live far away from their families nowadays. We have so much to be grateful for living in a safe and beautiful place that offers the kind of freedom of amazing lifestyle that it does, and the privilege of so many opportunities. One cannot but love a country that offers you the opportunity to put on your shoes and head out for a safe morning walk on your own on a quiet country road you’ve never been on and to just follow the road to see where it takes you and to keep going to see what awaits around the next bend and then as a bonus to stumble upon views such as this:
A landmark moment in my memory was the first day of the kids’ second school year, one year after arriving. After having gone through so much change during the preceding 24 months and constantly feeling like I was doing something for the first time and still learning my way it hit me on that day and I thought: “I can do this. I’ve done it before.” Such a simple thing but it meant so much at that stage. After a while we started to feel like we’re not the newcomers anymore and that we really belonged here and embraced many things about the Aussie lifestyle such as gas barbeques (after having used coal for our braai all our lives) which meant that the barbeque was ready within minutes and also that I was able to cook something on the barbie without fuss when the man of the house was away; blower vacs (a blower and vacuum combo perfect for the garden); having a bread machine and making our own preservative free bread within two hours or less; the concept of “suck it up” (just get over it); driving for hours and then looking at the map and realising that we’ve only covered a small portion of this vast country, and to say “No worries” (no problem), to stop calling a traffic light a robot as well as lots of other descriptive sayings and acronyms. We wrote the citizenship test and became citizens on Australia Day in 2009; I’ve swallowed a fly – I think that should count for at least a 50% credit towards the citizenship test – and had many more near-misses like that; started a book club together with friends which has become a close knit group of us who treasures and looks forward to book club night on the calendar every month; I’ve given up the stay-at-home-mum status and took a part-time job in 2008; I now struggle to say phone numbers in Afrikaans which had been my first language for 30 odd years (I now feel like I have two first languages); come to appreciate the Freo doctor (cool sea breeze) on a warm summer’s arvo; we’ve enjoyed lots of sunset barbies at the beach with friends; have an annual “moving to Perth” anniversary dinner with friends who arrived within a week of us and whom we met at school on the first or second school day; done many a road-trip and love the vast beauty of this great southern land but I still catch myself sometimes as we drive home after a long trip away nearly saying we’re going back to the Cape (Cape Town) and not Perth, it must be so ingrained in me, and also discovered that it’s still heart-breaking when the Springboks lose a test match. Especially in Perth. I have a number of favourite places in WA though, from Denmark to Rottnest Island, Coral Bay and Broome, and love each one too much to choose it above another. After 10 years in Perth it’s fair to say that our experiences living in both South Africa and Australia (and throw in Dubai for good measure) have all shaped, formed and influenced us as people and I wouldn’t change it for a thing. This child of Africa will always have an unbreakable bond with Africa but is undeniably also Australian and loves living in Perth. Fair dinkum.