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Byron Shire
January 23, 2022

Perspective after four years away

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Four years is the longest I’ve been absent from Australian shores – plenty seems to have happened since I last set foot here. Juanita presents the news from Gadigal Country, and there are all sorts of new accents on TV, people ‘check in’ as religiously as they saved water during the decade of drought. There was a new drought – so severe my home town of Tenterfield ran out of drinking water – there were crazy fires, and then the best season any farmer has seen in their lifetime.

Road crews seem to now be half female, and Marrickville has become trendy. Byron has gone beyond trendy and entered some kind of stratospheric zone where no normal human dares to tread!

Some things of course remain resolutely the same: Sydneysiders discuss house prices, secretly pleased their homes are worth so much, wondering in the next sentence how their children (let alone their cleaners) will ever afford to live there.

I forget, and am reminded every time I come home how great Jatz are, and how great Aussie coffee, is while organic food remains hard to find for any reasonable price.


Eighteen years living in Europe has accustomed me to absences from all that Aussiness, but this was the longest stretch. I’ve never been one for homesickness but it was starting to weigh on me. A slight sense that the thread connecting me wasn’t just stretching, but perhaps fraying, definitely fragile in a way I hadn’t previously felt.

I searched out Australian-made series on Netflix (limited when your IP address is in France). I monopolised a client when I realised he had no accent (ie, he had an Aussie one) – so desperate was I to hear a voice that sounded like home. In March I delivered my 18 year old to Frankfurt airport – how comforting it was to put him on a Qantas repatriation flight full of people sounding like us.

Changing country

When my turn to return came in late September, instead of the usual full immersion experience once you land we were instead ferried through an empty terminal, onto a socially distanced bus, and into a hotel for two weeks of recycled air with not even a hint of Sydney breeze.

It gave me time to notice the multitude of Australian accents on ABC news reporting, and the recognition of Aboriginal countries. Sydney as Gadigal Country has now entered my brain. What a joyful thing that this seems to have permeated Australian life.

On emerging from the hotel I visited the Unsettled exhibition at the Australian Museum, which was confronting and thought provoking. Often we feel frustrated and despairing at the slow pace of change, but this feels like the start of something big and new.

Is it just lip service? Tagging along with The Echo last week to a ceremony celebrating the Tweed Byron Aboriginal Land Council taking over management of Fingal Head, it felt real and grounded. The speakers stressed the strength of the cooperation between Coastcare groups, the local Tweed Council and the Aboriginal Land Council. It was heartening and I hope they are, as the first in the State to make such a transition, a model for others to follow.

COVID life

Moving around NSW I’ve been struck by the extraordinary level of compliance with COVID regulations and general cautiousness. I felt out of sync. Australia has been protected and ‘living with COVID’ remains an idea rather than the reality it is in France. Everyone signs in; something the French wholeheartedly rejected! Perhaps because there were so many cases in France no-one had confidence the contact tracing system could keep up (they were right – it didn’t), whereas in Australia it has.

Vaccination rates in France and Australia are now roughly the same, so, however it happened, people have responded to the call. I suspect the long summer coming up (generally a low risk period), and the booster shots, will loosen everyone up and living with COVID will become a reality.

Building futures

The elephant in this article is the submarines! I wonder if Australia has missed a trick in so roundly humiliating France. Our relationship feels like it is summed up by tensions over atomic testing in the Pacific and now the submarines.

With a large presence in the Pacific (French Polynesia, New Caledonia, Wallis and Futuna), France is surely a useful partner. More relevant than the British in any case, but language and cultural barriers make it all seem difficult. Maybe we could try harder?

Last but not least, why do Sydneysiders spend so much money on their houses and fail to put in double glazing? Winters are short but very cold and houses are open plan and poorly heated. Inner Sydney is noisy, and it sometimes feels like you are literally living on the street. The only homes with double glazing I’ve encountered belonged to two sciency buddies. Invest, and you won’t be disappointed!

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  1. Ahhh the experience of being a homesick expat overseas and pining to return to our golden shores…how poignant. I think the heart-aching pull of Australia was all the more surprising for me since I was so critical of so many aspects of Australia and it’s culture before I left it’s shores…but after a few years away, I too rubbernecked at passing Aussie accents and sought out Aussieness in all it’s forms – becoming buddies with fellow travellers and expats who I probably wouldn’t have given a second glance to if I’d met them in Australia. And then upon returning, the rude slap in the face that is a typical Aussie accent! The wonderfully muted hues and unique colour palette and forms of Australian vegetation, the stunning intensity of the light here, the brilliance of the sky…the cleanliness even of the most populated cities and the relaxed, dare I say it, easy-going nature of Australian people, all conspired to permanently imbue a rosy tint to the way I view my homeland. One learns so much about the world and oneself not only by travelling, but also by returning “home”, a concept which is so much better understood by leaving it. Nice, thought-provoking article.

  2. Pull up a chair. Have a sit and a quiet one in this here drought while I tell you why I have been away for four years from Australia’s shores. Sian Grigg’s the name, and I originated from Gadigal Country, Tenerfield. Didn’t catch your name. Never mind. Plenty of names seems to have changed now that I am back. A woman called Juanita presents the news from Gadigal Country, and there are all sorts of new accents and different faces on TV, people ‘check in’ religiously as they saved water during the decade of drought here in Tenterfield. After the old drought there was a new drought, so severe the town ran out of drinking water. There were devastating fires, and then the best season any farmer has seen in their lifetime. Yeah, it rained. Potholes in the roads everywhere. It reminded me of Byron Bay where were so many potholes.

  3. I find the Charlie Hebdo cartoon grossly offensive, arrogant and condescending. Not quite to the point that the said office served on the Muslim faith some years ago, but close, and we know the outcome of that issue. I don’t find it one bit humorous, entertaining, rather more like agitating to the point of white knuckled. As for Max Macaroon the President of France, who gains political persuasion through the camera lens with his ushering of world leaders as if they were 6yo’s entering the classroom. Mmm! not a guy or country that makes my Fave List.


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