I love meeting new people whenever I travel. As soon as I open my mouth, they recognise an “interesting” accent and the question inevitably follows: “Where do you come from?” I refrain from breaking out my Men At Work impression and I reply “I come from Australia.” That is the answer I have been giving for the past thirty years. Yes, it hardly seems real that it has already been thirty years since my parents packed up the family and moved us halfway across the world from Hong Kong to a city in a country we had never been to.
I never fully grasped the enormity of such a move back in 1982. At the time, I knew nothing about Australia – not even about the koalas and kangaroos that people ask me about nowadays when I travel abroad. The only people I knew who had even been to Australia were friends of my parents who had come here on a family holiday. I remember going to their house for a slide night but taking very little interest in what was on screen.
The only thing I remember thinking was that they spoke English in Australia. Having attended an English private school since kindergarten, I was not afraid of the language barrier, though if anyone had warned me about the accent, things might have been a little different! If only I had read Nino Culotta’s They’re A Weird Mob back then, I may have had a better understanding of the Australian slang!
The prospect of leaving behind all my friends and my grandparents, who I was extremely close to, never truly hit me until we were at the airport on August 15th, 1982, when I saw my grandfather cry for the first time in my life as we bade our farewells at the departure gate. Having always been an extremely sensitive and sentimental child, the sight of my grandparents and my parents in tears was the first sign that my life was about to change in a major way.
On the evening of August 14th, 1982, my parents, my sister and I packed up and left our home in Hong Kong to a country on the other side of the world that none of us had ever been to – permanently. That was 29 years ago and there is no doubt in my mind that, despite the ups and downs that my family has experienced over those years, and especially when we first arrived, that it was the best decision my parents ever made.