Wednesday, June 4, 2014

4 June 1994

Twenty years ago today I left New Zealand and arrived in Canberra. I emigrated I suppose, but who thinks of anything being permanent when you're 23? It was just the next thing to do, and seemed like a good idea. Why not? So I left my family and friends to live in a city that I had never even visited, in a country that I had been to exactly twice, for holidays. And, apart from the three-year posting in Papua New Guinea, we have been here ever since. And Canberra is a wonderful place to live, and Australians aren't at all the loud, brainless culture vacuums we thought they were back in NZ. Or if they are, then I'm one too now.

Anyway I went back in the photo albums to see if there were any photos of my arrival in Australia - there aren't - just one of me and some random friends at the airport before I left (my little sister was there too, I think she was taking the photo).

I look a bit shellshocked, but in my defence it had been a pretty busy week. My then-boy-friend-now-husband had gone back to Canberra a few weeks ago and I'd stayed on to say goodbye to everyone and get some ceremonies out of the way. First there was this one - mmm, nice wig Lynley ... I have never done that again. Even then I knew I wasn't destined for a great (or any) barrister career.

Then another ceremony - this is with my grandma (my dad's mum) and my little sister. Grandma would have been just short of her 80th birthday then and travelled the best part of 1000km to be at our graduations ... I probably didn't appreciate it enough at the time. My sister had moved to Wellington to do her honours year so we finished and graduated together, which was nice.

And the next night a farewell dinner out with my mates - we went to the Sultan Turkish Restaurant because I'd worked there as a waitress a couple of years previously and the food was excellent, as long as you didn't take any crap from the Kurdish kitchenhands. Mind you, they didn't speak much English, so most of my memories of them are how they used to take all the wine left from the tables (including half-empty glasses, red, white or anything) and pour it into a big jug, and then at the end of the night they'd sit around and drink it. "Would you like drink girls?" Ah no, thank you, Mr Kitchenhand, I'll be taking off my embroidered Turkish apron and leaving now.

So, by the time I got to the airport on Saturday June 4th 1994, I was a bit weary. However it was my first experience of a business class flight, and I was determined to relish it. As an officially recognised de facto spouse on an official end of posting trip "home" to Australia, I got to sit at the pointy end of the plane. On the other hand, as a 23 year old student, I was determined to get the government's money worth out of the food, wine and snacks ... which I did with the kind of commitment and devotion that has marked my subsequent public service career. So, when I arrived in Canberra in the early evening, and saw my officially recognised de facto spouse for the first time in WEEKS, I burst into tears and hysterically sobbed all over the airport while he thought I was regretting the biggest mistake of my life ALREADY and I hadn't even picked up my bag yet.

But I calmed down, and we went back to the apartment, and then - because it was only 8 pm local time despite me having left Wellington about twelve hours ago - we went out for dinner with ALL of my husband's friends to celebrate a birthday. The birthday boy was 29 then, so he must be 49 today! And of course all the friends were keenly interested in the foreigner that had been dragged back from an overseas posting, and by the time we got there they were all there, about thirty of them, although it seemed like a million, and I was cold and tired and drunk all tied up in one super attractive bundle. And I was wearing a mustard coloured pinafore I'd made myself over a pink tshirt and woolly tights and doc martens ... it seemed like a good idea at the time.  Twenty years ago and I can remember that moment as if it was yesterday! Fortunately I had the sense to stay very very quiet and only spoke one word replies when asked a direct question. They probably thought I was shy, or a bit backward, but it's better than the complete lunatic I could so easily have shown myself to be. They found that out later...


  1. Such wonderful memories, lucky you, having photos to look back on. If you had spoken too much you would have got a lot of "stick" about your Kiwi accent, my story is very similar, I met an Australian soldier nearly 20 years ago, and ended up here in Adelaide (with a few other stops in between) everyone I met wanted me to say "fush and chups" :)

  2. Weren't you recovering from weeks in hospital with pericarditis? And was that when I lost the car?
    How long after that was it before we came over to see you?

  3. Well, I bet your mum and dad weren't too thrilled about your emigrating. I'm very not thrilled about mine living in London. See this falling in love thing? Causes problems... but also lovely red-haired boys, in your case.

  4. Geez Dad, it was a full three years after the pericarditis! and how on earth did you lose a car? I don't remember that at all. You came over to see us the following year, 1995...

  5. Wrong graduation, that's all. I had parked in a slightly dodgy place miles from the Michael Fowler Centre after dropping you off. I went back and shifted it even further away and forgot that bit when we came out.
    You all went back by taxi or somehow to Oriental Parade, wasn't it? and I eventually found the car. I don't think the emigration worried us too much as you had been away from home 6 years plus and it was only Australia after all. Mind you Betty still pined. Remember how she would drive down to Wellington if she hadn't seen you for a while? Dad.