It’s my third week living here in Melbourne and I have to be honest, there’s a part of me missing my ol’ hometown Hobart like a secret lover. It’s not my first time away from home either – last year I flew around the world for eleven months flitting from one country to the next with reckless abandon. While I was away, I met a chocolate box variety of people, some daring and bold, others meek and curious. What they all had in common was their desire to know the answer to the same question. What is it like to be away from home for so long?
Since moving here, that question has been circling my mind like a goldfish in a bowl. What’s it like to be away from home? Technically, Melbourne is only a fifty five minute plane trip over the Bass Straight, so I’m not far from home by any means. Except some days I feel I might as well be a million miles away. Here, the morning autumn air lacks a certain crispness. It doesn’t stain your cheeks that sharp pink or tint your lips a fashionable red as you walk out the front door. There is no snow-capped mountain to gaze at in wonder and you have to take at least a thirty minute tram ride from the house to glance the water. When I walk out my front door here, I see the city looming at the end of the street and right now I can hear the endless buzz of the cars and clink of the trams. I am confused by the fact that when I’m here I am always wondering about home yet last year home was an almost forgotten concept.
I like to pretend I am the sort of person who throws myself into things. That I could pack my bags in an instant and be jet-setting off into the world to live anywhere I wanted – Africa, Turkey or even Iran (!). Last year when I travelled the world I began to accept the ever changing pace of travel and eventually I lost that longing to be home. Instead, home was a backpack full of familiar, though slightly mouldy, clothes and the ever reliable inside of trains, buses or dare I say it those horrible inventions that hover gosh-knows-how in the air that they call planes.
The more I experienced new things, the more I craved to see more, to taste more, to drink in every possible opportunity the world offered me. I temporarily forgot about home and longed for the constant high of experiencing the new. I trekked for five days to Macchu Picchu and stared up at the looming age-old ruins, I had first hand experience of the ‘troubles’ in Ireland when a bomb went off in the city centre of London-Derry, I walked along the broken splinters of the Great Wall of China miles away from where tourists blared their flash-fuelled cameras, I lay spooning a sea-lion on the reflex-white beaches of the Galapagos Islands and for the first time in ten years I rode a bike along a busy Mexican highway with no helmet and the wind gliding through my hair while I was under the influence of tequila – but don’t worry, it’s perfectly legal there.
The point is, I was so busy living that I forgot to miss home. I remember that first day back in Hobart after eleven months. I went for a walk around my neighbourhood. It was Spring and there were thousands of colours bursting out at me from all directions. The world felt four-dimensional and I suddenly started to have that feeling again. I remembered the scent of the neighbour’s rose garden and the feeling of the Derwent River breeze sending goose bumps up my arms on an afternoon walk. I noticed the sky was a particular blue, and I couldn’t for the life of me stop smiling. And even though I hadn’t been home for what felt like an age, I suddenly remembered what it was like to feel I belonged somewhere. I knew this place like the lines on the palm of my hand. And that’s when I heard that somewhat corny saying in my head – home is where the heart is.
But why do people feel such strong attachment to a space or an environment, that place they call home?
There’s an author I once read, Corbett, who said that feeling ‘home’ is not only about an attachment to the people in that place, like your family or friends, but also an attachment to your physical surroundings. That these physical surroundings give the feelings of security, comfort and belonging. She remarked that the physical environment has a way of claiming you on a subconscious level. People learn to rely on place to help them deal with issues of identity. For example, you might go for a walk around Mount Wellington, or along Nutgrove Beach because it helps to calm those feelings of doubt. I asked myself what would happen if everyone I knew and loved moved away from Hobart – would I still miss it despite not knowing a soul there? I decided I would. Because part of me is attached to the physical surroundings of the place. I would miss the way the mountain looks first thing in the morning and the smell that filters through an open car window while taking a drive through Huonville. I would even miss the industrial smell of trucks driving along the Brooker Highway on the way to work. Despite the lack of familiar people, I would still long to breathe the clean Hobart air.
In my short time living here I keep hearing people say the same kinds of things. They tell me their home is Perth or Adelaide or Sydney but they are living here just for now. They say when they start a family they’ll move back home. It seems as though a part of them is still loyal to the place they grew up. They can’t completely commit to a life without the whole familiar package. They can’t let go of the place where their memories live like ghosts. Home is the place where your family is, where you can walk the streets and be reminded of times gone by – like where you first kissed that guy, or the hide out where you went when wagging accounting class at school. You know your own home like a secret road map of memories.
I think I now understand why I was away for a year and barely thought of home yet now it is all that is on my mind. When I was away, in my heart I knew I was coming back. I knew Hobart would be there waiting for me, unchanged and accepting me back into its familiar flow. I knew the mountain would be towering over the suburbs of Hobart, and the bridge would be clogged with its early morning traffic. The difference between then and now is that there is a question hanging over my future. Where will I end up from here?
Will I ever go back there and fit into that same life, smell those same roses, remember that breeze in the same tender way? I like to think I will. Deep down, I think everyone does.