When Australian journalist Amanda Woodward-Brown moved to London with her British husband, it was meant to be for a few years. Nearly a decade, two children and a house later, they’re still here, but will it ever feel like home, she asks.
IMAGE: ALEX WONG UNSPLASH
“It’s funny how you still always refer to Australia as home,” a friend said a few years ago. It was a casual remark, but it caught me by surprise as it was instantly (even if unintentionally) illuminating. Thinking over her comment I realised she was right: on paper, England is my home. I live here, my husband is British, I own a house here and my children were born here. I have built a career and a loyal network of friends who I have shared love and loss with, yet still… I never feel quite at home here. England, this place that is meant to be my home, never feels to me quite like it truly is where I should, or if I am honest, want to be.
It is an odd feeling to live where you don’t feel quite ‘at home’. The constant sense of longing for somewhere other than where you are creates an underlying sense of discontentment. For me, it makes me feel as though I am in limbo, neither here nor there. Once you make a country other than yours ‘home’, you are wedded to two places – the thread of your life stitched between different cultures and traditions.
Once you make a country other than yours ‘home’, you are wedded to two places – the thread of your life stitched between different cultures and traditions.”
It is something I have talked about at length with many friends from overseas. I have tried to trace the threads that keep them held here, unravel the reasons why they seem happy to stay in the UK, to call it their home, when I only feel a growing desire to return to where I once was. There are many reasons why people willingly choose a country to live in other than the one they were born. However, it seems the key to staying is a sense of contentment.
A South African friend put it best when she said that she feels like herself in Europe. She never felt quite like she belonged in Cape Town despite being born and raised there. When she arrived in Amsterdam in her twenties she said it was as though, for the first time in her life, she was precisely where she should be.
AMANDA WOODWARD-BROWN WITH HER DAUGHTERS VIOLET AND ISLA IN THE UK. IMAGES: AMANDA WOODWARD-BROWN
Which raises the question – what exactly does ‘home’ mean? It is more than a place that you live in, or where you were born or raised. It is where you feel your soul settle – where you feel most like ‘you’. So how do you make somewhere you don’t feel at peace with, well… home? Subconsciously, my way of answering this has been to find echoes of Australia in my life here.
It is a running joke among friends how the interiors of my house are almost all white. Pale walls, white floors, white kitchen. Again, I didn’t realise that this was anything to be remarked upon until a friend pointed it out. The frequent overcast skies and the darkness that creeps in the early afternoon during winter here makes me feel extremely low, so I counteract it with white, trying to capture the elusive light of the northern hemisphere. Similarly, our builder was mystified when I told him I wanted fibreglass instead of rubber on the roof of our extension so I could hear the drum of the rain, just like I would on the corrugated iron roof of my Queenslander-style house in Australia.
Home is more than a place that you live in, or where you were born or raised. It is where you feel your soul settle – where you feel most like ‘you’.”
You might be wondering what brought me here in the first place. If I put it down to one reason, it was love. I met my husband when I was 18 during the last few months of a gap year in England between leaving school and starting university. As it turned out, he was planning a year of travel after completing his university degree, culminating in six months in Australia. We stayed together, he moved out to Australia and we spent nine years on the northern beaches of Sydney. We had a happy existence in Australia, but we had always talked about living in the UK again at some point. In my late 20s we became engaged and made the decision to move to London for a few years.
I thought it was a decision driven by wanderlust and an ambition to expand my career internationally, but looking back, I think it was also a desire to get to know the country and the family and friends that had shaped my husband. We used to visit England frequently, but it is hard to develop a deep understanding of a place or people based on a two-week holiday. Initially, my husband wasn’t so convinced it was the right move, especially as he had just been offered a promising new job. Ironically, I argued the point, won, and we resigned from our jobs, packed up our flat and left. Almost 10 years later, here I am in England with my husband, two children and a house.
AMANDA, VIOLET AND AND ISLA ON THEIR TWO SEPARATE TRIPS TO AUSTRALIA. IMAGES: AMANDA WOODWARD-BROWN
Now I am a mother, seeing how different my daughters’ lives are from my own childhood is possibly one of the reasons I am not sure I will ever feel settled in England. I grew up in the Blue Mountains, a vast area of national park in New South Wales. Nature was omnipresent in my life – untamed and wild. I woke up to the cackling and squawking of birds in the morning and was lulled to sleep by the steady drone of cicadas in the dusk. My backyard was the seemingly endless valleys of sun-bleached bush under a vast expanse of blue sky. I was free to run and roam and explore.
In contrast, my daughters live an urban, ordered existence in a suburban village on the border of London. They spend more time indoors than they do outside. As a result, we try to escape often to the country, where my in-laws live in a lovely property set amongst farmland in rural Suffolk. The girls catch butterflies in the wildflower meadow and pick raspberries in their grandfather’s vegetable patch wearing Liberty print dresses and Hunter wellingtons. It is bucolic and idyllic. I love spending time there, but still… it is so different from home.
Our builder was mystified when I told him I wanted fibreglass instead of rubber on the roof of our extension so I could hear drum of the rain, just like I would on the corrugated iron roof of my Queenslander-style house in Australia.”
Sometimes I get a deep, almost physical longing for the rugged beauty of Australia. It is not that England is not beautiful. It is one of the most beautiful countries I have seen. I particularly love the change of seasons – watching spring unfurl in a flurry of blossom then seeing the glory of summer fade to a golden autumn. However, nature always feels contained here, confined to allocated ‘green spaces’. London parks with their lush carpets of grass and manicured borders of flowers fail to inspire in me the same deep happiness as the wildness of the Australian landscape.
When I am asked what I miss most about home, I find it hard to sum up in tangible things. It is not something that can be bought or replicated. It is the medicinal smell of eucalyptus after heavy rainfall, the searing sun on my back, the sharp salty slap of cold ocean water on hot skin, the light, that translucent sparkling light, flooding everything in crystal clear brilliance. Most of all it is the warm, effortless familiarity of family and friends. The people who, through years of shared culture and history, know you better than you know yourself.
AMANDA AND HER YOUNGEST DAUGHTER, ISLA, ON THEIR MOST RECENT VISIT TO AUSTRALIA. IMAGES: AMANDA WOODWARD-BROWN
Seeing as I so clearly appear to miss Australia, why am l still in England? I am lucky in that, unlike so many others displaced by circumstances beyond their control, I made a willing choice to come to the UK and I am free to go back to my home country if I wish. Yet, it isn’t that simple. My husband doesn’t want to go back. He likes living here and is reluctant to again uproot our lives, especially now we have two children. Our daughters, however, are one of the reasons I am so keen to go back – it is harder than ever to be far away from my family now that I have one of my own and to see my children growing up in a way that is so different to how I did.
Yet despite my desire to return to Australia, I haven’t regretted the time I have spent in the UK. I have worked hard to create a life here – I have a career, friends and most importantly, an extended family whom I love. England has made me who I am. Yet despite all of this, I can’t seem to reconcile myself with the fact that England is my ‘home’. I feel the threads that link me to Australia pulling harder than ever and with each passing year, it is becoming increasingly difficult not to follow their draw back home.
Find Amanda on Instagram @amandawoodwardbrown
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