At seventeen I was desperate to leave my small country hometown. With its population of 22,000 and shops that close on Sundays, I felt stifled. Someone always knows your business or asks about your mum’s knees.*
As it turns out, the very thing that I was trying to escape from – other people, who know my entire life history – became the thing I longed for the most once I’d moved to Sydney. Gone was the comfort of knowing exactly where I was going, and the small pleasure of running into a friend in town with whom a quick wave hello becomes half an hour of surreptitious gossip.
The innate sense of familiarity, and knowledge of the best way to get home with maximum avoidance of stop signs and hill starts. Unfortunately there is no way to get anywhere in Armidale without going through approximately 800 roundabouts, but there are only 2 sets of traffic lights, so there’s that.
There is a lure to small town life, although it took me a while to realise that Armidale is not like other small towns. It has a university, for a start, and now a preponderance of hipster cafes (although they don’t do all day breakfast, so what’s the point?!). The art gallery, the local beers, being able to drive from one side of town to the other in 15 minutes. And it’s just so beautiful.
Spring, with the cherry blossoms and wisteria starting to bloom, and clear blue skies; I want to take photos but there’s no point really because it’s something in the air, not just the trees. Autumn has the changing leaves, and even winter has a certain austere beauty on those grey days.
|If you are unfamiliar with this part of the countryside, the sight of full dams and green, green grass will seem unexceptional to you. But to the rest of us, these things are worthy of many enthusiastic conversations.|
I’ve been thinking about this a lot since arriving in the Middle East. I’m hoping that I will come to see that the desert has its own beauty. I’m not quite there yet.
The other day, landing in Sydney, my eyes welled with tears. Not actually because I was at home, but because there was grass between the runways, and it was so green. And then I cried because I was crying because there was grass at the airport. Emotions are running high at the moment.
Even though living Sydney made me miserable because of the traffic, and my long commute, the anonymity and facelessness of the city, I loved our neighbourhood; our wide leafy street and the Cooks River.
I hated our apartment, with its stucco roof, 4 flights of stairs, mouldering kitchen, terrible oven and slowly decaying bathroom, but sitting out on the balcony just looking up at the sky, I could forget all that and just listen to the wind in the trees. And also the neighbour threatening to kill someone, but even that had a certain charm.
I recognised some years ago now that my heart is in the country. I discovered a love of the outdoors and started to miss the cold winter air, smelling of wood smoke. Never mind that it gives you asthma… it gives me a sense of contentment.
This past weekend was a reunion of sorts with my group of high school friends, and even those of us who moved far and fast are starting to feel the pull of the small town life.
A friend who moved to Melbourne is looking to get out (although Armidale is currently off her list because it’s too cold); another has just bought a house here.
We all spread our branches far out into other places, but our roots are here and they run deep.