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May 30, 2023

Mandy Nolan’s Soapbox: Coming Home

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I love my home. I love the air – there is definitely a smell. It’s salty and fragrant at the same time. It’s the smell of the sea where it meets the land, where mountain touches sky.

Homesickness is defined as a longing for one’s home after a period of absence from it. It’s a strange anxiety and sense of displacement. I’ve been away for a month now, I start the journey home tomorrow. I can’t wait. It’s not that I didn’t love being away. I have had an amazing time. But I love home. It’s not just somewhere I live, it’s part of my identity. It isn’t in the background; it lives in me. It is a huge part of who I am. It’s what keeps me well. Home isn’t real estate. You can’t sell it. And you can’t buy it. Home is what you build. It’s what you find. It’s what you recognise and sustain. It’s what you continue building.

It’s why homelessness is so devastating. We need houses. But home is more than that.

I realise that in my role as an opinion writer and social commentator I spend a lot of time critiquing what’s wrong with the world and the place where I live, but being away invokes the romance. It reminds me of why I stay, and what I value. It reminds me that I have a home. I have safety. So many do not. It hurts to think about that. It hurts even more to see it. I wonder, as I walk past another person sleeping in a doorway, if that’s why people stop seeing it.

I love my home. I love the air – there is definitely a smell. It’s salty and fragrant at the same time. It’s the smell of the sea where it meets the land, where mountain touches sky. The air is warm. It’s incredible. You can breathe deep. According to the World Health Organisation, 99 per cent of human populations breathe air that exceeds air-quality limits – air that deposits particles in people’s lungs that can make them sick. Fresh air is a resource that we can’t see. It increases oxygen, it cleans your lungs, it boosts your mood and it lowers your heart rate. It’s free. It’s accessible to everyone. I am so used to it that I forget that we are among the one per cent of the world’s population who breathe unpolluted air.

I love the ocean. I love the changing tides, the soft pinks of sunrise, the red of the sun emerging from the sea. Most days I walk the beach in quiet gratitude. Here in Melbourne I miss the long expanse of the coast; looking ahead some mornings and seeing no one. Looking ahead on other days and seeing the silhouettes of people I know well; people who will stop and talk to me and ask me about my kids and my husband. Who invite me to an exhibition, or dinner. Or to walk with them the next day to share a story of their grief.

I love my community. It’s why I got into politics. It’s my most enduring relationship; a 30-year plus engagement of tenderness and connection, of wild laughter and volatility. I love the way my home crowd gets me. We share a joke. It takes shape in my mouth as I stand there. Not even I know what I am going to say most of the time. It doesn’t have to be explained, because we have an unspoken understanding. It’s something I take for granted, like fresh air, there is something nourishing about being understood. 

I love knowing the people who pass me in the street, who stop to chat, who thank me for something I’ve done, or take the opportunity of seeing me to ask me to do something. Who affirm when I am right, but also when I am wrong. The people who sit with me in a coffee shop and talk politics and books, the people I pick up hitch hiking who then tell me about their life. Local people who email me to ask for help. 

The floods really showed me who we are; that underneath the arguing and misunderstandings, the privilege and the differing circumstances, is a community that knows how to self-organise. We know how to step-up to help – how to be the change.

I’m not idealising our region. We have many challenges. Ironically in the place I call home, many others who also value this sense of community and connection cannot afford to keep living here. Profiteering threatens our home. And that’s something else I miss; being the arsehole who calls that out.

So I’m coming home. If you see me, stop and say ‘Hi’. I’ve missed you.

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  1. Hi Mandy, yes I know that feeling well. I miss the Byron Shire heaps! Most of my longtime friends still live there. My grandkids live there, my son has a business there. If I was still there I would be able to see these people and spend time with them.
    But alas, like many I have been forced out due to the soaring rents. But at least I am not homeless! I feel for those in the Shire who are.
    It’s been 5 years since I left the Shire and I am missing it terribly. I live in a town that doesn’t have “my kind of people”. But the rents are cheap and free food is in abundance in an agricultural centre. And the sun shines most days of the year. So I have to be grateful. But I would give anything to be able to move back to Byron Shire rainy days, floods and all. But looks like I will have to win the lottery first!


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