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Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Letter to my 13-year-old...

I’ve been feeling old lately; my grey roots come back quicker than they used to, my face takes at least an hour to look normal in the mornings, and my knickers have become high-rise elasticated torture devices designed to contain the hateful middle age spread.

What’s worse is the fact that the eldest child has just turned 13; a date which loomed ominously on the calendar for months, like a death knell to any lingering belief that I was still a ‘young mum’, rather than the fully paid up veteran I actually am.

Being the mother of a teenager is a big responsibility, and I’ve decided to mark the occasion by offering her some advice which might help her on her way. So here it is:

Dearest Emily,
Thirteen – wow, how did that happen? Is it really that long since we met? The day you were born was the worst and best day of my life. Nothing could have prepared me for the tsunami of pain which tore through my body that day; wave after wave of agonising contractions  which seemed to go on for hours. Actually they did go on for hours; 16 to be precise. 
Sixteen hours of terror, blood and tears, but then suddenly it was over – like the calm following the storm – and there you were, staring up at me with those beautiful blue eyes; this perfect pink girl. It was love at first sight. You changed my life that day.
So, what am I going to tell you? It's not as if I have all the answers yet, we're all learning, all of the time, but here's a few things I jotted down.
1) Don’t follow the crowd. You are so bright and creative and people are naturally drawn to you, so don’t shy away from that, embrace it. It’s better to be your original self than a poor copy of someone else - even if people don't fully appreciate you for it to begin with. Never lose your individuality; it’s what makes you who you are.
2) Next – and I really mean this – never diet. Dieting steals the joy from life. Be kind to your body, think carefully about what you feed it, keep it active, and you will never need to worry about your weight. It took me 28 years to figure this out (and I still struggle with it), so consider this advice a gift.
3) Try not to take yourself too seriously. I mean it – learn to laugh at yourself. We both know this isn’t always easy for you, but trust me it makes all the difference when times get tough. 
4) Be nice to your brothers. Now don’t roll your eyes! Yes, I know they’re annoying, noisy, nit-infested stink-bugs, but they will always stick up for you against enemies, even if they think you’re being an idiot. Because that’s what families do. Trust me on this one. Plus they adore you, even if you don’t always see it.
5) Never perm your hair – I know you like curls, but curling tongs will do exactly the same job without the commitment. This comes from someone who spent a year growing one out – I’ll never get that time, or self-respect, back.
6) The next one is simple but so many people don’t get it; be kind. It costs nothing and can make all the difference to someone. There will always be people who are cruel simply because they can be. Stay away from them and surround yourself with other kind people – it makes for a nicer life. 
7) Say ‘yes’ to as many things as you can – it can bring you to some surprising places.Take risks and don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone, because that’s when life gets interesting. It’s a short life and as your grandfather used to say, we’re a long time dead.
8) This next one sounds like a cliché, but dance as often as you can – even if you’re alone – especially if you’re alone. Yes I know your ballet career began and ended before you were four (you really shouldn’t have shoved your dance teacher like that), and yes you have two left feet, but it doesn’t matter! Nobody can be unhappy when they’re pirouetting around the kitchen.
I shall finish now, I know your iPhone is calling. But I’ll just leave you with this last thought. Life is just a series of good and bad decisions, of triumphs and screw-ups. What sets you apart is how you deal with them. But just remember, your mum’s always here to help.
Love you,
Mum. 


Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Working mum v stay at home mum...it's not that simple...

What is it about motherhood that makes women so nasty to each other? How often do you open a magazine or paper to read yet another article criticising stay-at-home mums for being unambitious and lazy or berating their working counterparts for being cold-hearted career bitches?

The latest woman to weigh in on this ongoing and seemingly endless debate is ex-Apprentice star and controversial TV social commentator Katie Hopkins, who recently tweeted, ‘Full time mummy is not an occupation. It is merely a biological status’.

Why people feel the need to come out and make these sort of incendiary comments aside, you can’t help but wonder what she hoped to gain by saying this at all other than alienating at least half of her female Twitter followers.Hopkins made her latest controversial statements on her Twitter account, claiming that being a full-time mother is not an occupation

Of course she's not new to controversy. This is the woman who said she wouldn't allow her children to play with kids who had what she deemed to be working-class sounding names, such as 'Tyler' or 'Charmaine'. She also accused Lilly Allen of being fat and hideous after giving birth. Yes, this woman is a nice piece of work.

I’ve never fully understood why there is such a divide between ‘working mother’ and ‘stay at home mother’, mainly because as most mothers reading this will know, it isn’t that clear cut.

First off, how do we decide who is a working mother and who isn’t? Clearly someone who puts on a business suit each morning and works a 14 hour day could be classed as a 'working mother'. But what about women who work four hours a day – does that still count? What about two days a week. In a charity shop. For no money. Does that count?

What about women who run a business from home, fitting it around their children? Or the mummy bloggers who manage to make money out of blogging about kids or travel or shoes?

Aside from the myriad jobs a mother does during the day – the washing, the cooking, the homework, the general drudgery – who’s to judge what’s worthy of the term ‘working’ and what isn’t? (And yes, in theory men share these jobs, particularly when a woman works full time, but for now I'll assume the woman carries out the bulk of them.)

In Katy’s world it must be so simple: To work or not to work, that is the question? But I have news for her, it’s more complicated than whether you can be bothered or not; it’s not always easy to find a job that fits around the school run. It doesn’t always make financial sense to work after you’ve factored in childcare costs. Some women have children with special needs. Some women may have worked hard for the last 20 years and are taking a few short years off so they don't miss out on their kids being small.

And some women live in the Australian outback where job opportunities seem to be limited to car washing or truck driving.

When I fell pregnant with the tweenager I fully intended to return to work after she was born. I was working in an office job which I was perfectly happy with, DH and I had bought our first house and were busily trying to pay for it, and so I felt extremely fortunate to find a day care centre around the corner from my office. It was perfect, if I wanted to pop in to see the baby during the day I could. If there were any problems it would take me two minutes to get there. I had it all worked out.

Then I gave birth and realised I really, really wanted to stay at home with her and so, ever resourceful, I figured out a way to do just that by child-minding a neighbour's baby. It helped cover my costs while affording me the time I wanted with my baby.

Thirteen years on and I haven't worked full-time since, instead just dipping in and out of things as they come along. 

I did a stint volunteering for the charity Bodywhys (The Irish Eating Disorders Association) for a few years, work I enjoyed greatly. And I once pretended to teach English to Emirati kids for a summer (they didn't learn anything except that I wasn't very good at controlling them). I loved this job, mainly I suspect because it meant leaving the house alone each morning, something which felt as tantalisingly dangerous as having an affair. 

The columns I occasionally get paid for are less like work and more an exercise in plate-spinning since inevitably the three-year-old will want a drink/DVD on/trip to the toilet the second I start typing. And it's not unusual for him to slap the laptop shut when I'm not looking, often losing hundreds of words at a time. In other words, working from home and resident three-year-olds are pretty much mutually exclusive in my opinion. Not that I regret being with him, he's my last and I'm enjoying our time together before he sets off for kindergarten next year.

BUT, I will admit there are days when I would literally give anything to put on a pair of high heels, a pencil skirt, and drive away to an office to hang around people who don’t cry if they get the wrong coloured cup, or who need to be chased around the house to get their bottom wiped.

And the idea of earning a proper wage is beyond seductive but it's simply not that easy. Childcare in Australia is prohibitively expensive - even if there were any suitable jobs for me here in Paraburdoo - and it simply wouldn't make financial sense for me to go and work at the moment, unfortunately.

So it's not as straightforward as Ms Hopkins would have you believe. We don't all live in Notting Hill with an army of expensive nannies to help us maintain our TV careers. Neither do we spend all day with other yummy mummies, discussing Cath Kidston's latest print over a low-fat cafe latte (although I'm fully confident such creatures exist!).
oi

Most women are just muddling along somewhere in the middle, feeling like we're failing no matter what we choose. Because the truth is, we can't win either way; if we work we're letting our kids down, if we don't work we're letting ourselves down. We can be hard on ourselves like that. Because let's face it, the men aren't saying anything, not a word. Men are good like that. No, our worst enemies are other women. And the last thing we need are stuck up, opinionated harpies from the telly, spouting vitriol at our choices.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Without my daughter...

Life in the outback presents many challenges; you can't get bread on a Tuesday, a broken school shoe isn't replaced easily, you can't hide on a bad-hair day since it's impossible to be anonymous. But one of the biggest challenges facing families up here is the question of education.

For such a small town, there is a pretty high percentage of home-schoolers for example. Many people here are unhappy with the local primary school; the teaching population can be transient, teachers come and go, and I've heard of one principal who simply up and left one day with no prior warning. And so, it's a bit of a lottery whether you're going to get a decent teacher for your child, since finding good teachers who are willing to come up and live here is not an easy task.

High-school presents an equal if not bigger challenge. The 'local' high-school is 80 kms away and has an equally transient teaching population, resulting in many families choosing to send their children to boarding school instead.

And unbelievably, I've just joined their ranks. This past weekend saw myself and the 12-year-old board a flight to Perth to settle her into her new school (a place on a Gifted and Talented program in a state school, a chance we simply couldn't turn down) and accommodation, an event I've known was coming for ten months now, but which was nonetheless as surreal as the days following her birth, as the realisation that life was about to change in ways I couldn't even fathom yet, slowly dawned.

When she was born, I had no idea what to expect. I wasn't even sure I could take care of a child - I couldn't take care of myself. But when she slithered into my life, bright, alert, with large, blue unblinking eyes, my entire existence sort of shifted, my stars realigned a little, a peace I hadn't known since I was a child settled gently over me.

She changed everything. My teens and twenties had been dogged by an eating disorder - predominately bulimia - which had left my ambitions in tatters, shadowing me day and night, never far from sight. But on that bright afternoon on Mothering Sunday in 2001, the bulimia fled out the door never to be seen again. Just like that, all those years of useless psychiatrists, behavioural psychologists and hippy therapists chanting self-loving mantras, were upstaged by a pink girl with a shock of black spiky hair.

And so she's gone. This morning after waking the boys for school, I hovered outside her door for a moment, expecting to peer in to see the familiar sight of her up and dressed, sitting on her bed, eyes fixed on her phone, muttering crossly, "why aren't the boys up yet? They'll be late!".

Oh don't get me wrong, she's always been hard work. Always infuriatingly independent, she's never allowed me to be the doting mother that the boys have. She is strong-willed with a burning agenda, never willing to compromise.

I see so much of myself in her, and so much of my mother, but added into that mix is a hardness and determination neither my mother nor I possess.

The first year of her life she never left my side; I refused to put her in her cot - she slept beside me - I wanted to feel her close in the night, to know she was safe. The daycare place booked for her - right around the corner from my office - was cancelled, as was my job, nothing on earth could persuade me to leave her in someone else's care.

But when her younger brother appeared a year and a half later, I saw a look of betrayal in her eye, and for many years I felt she couldn't forgive me for bringing a third person into our little world. I'm still  not sure she forgives me.

And now I feel like I've betrayed her all over again. We moved to the outback to get away from the hellish fly in fly out existence that nearly destroyed us last year, but the cost is that, rather than DH living a two-hour flight away, she does.

So she is there and we are here and despite the four very lively boys, the house feels strangely empty. Every family has its own rhythm, its own sound, words, catchphrases, jokes or silly songs - things that only its members can understand - and the sound of this family has her voice stamped all over it. She's been instrumental in creating the culture of this family, she's the ringleader, the Pied Piper whom the boys have always eagerly followed, adoring her, hoping to be singled out by her for affection.

And now, for the most part, it is up to the boys to keep the traditions going, to leave their own imprint, to create new rhythms, at least while she's away.

This arrangement is temporary, I'm not willing to have her away from me full time just yet. But even if it's only for a few months I know the child I get back will be forever altered, brimming with new experiences and influences and that's not a bad thing, even if it tugs at my inner control freak a little. She's entered an exciting world that I will know nothing about, apart from what she's willing to share, and I'm glad she has that opportunity. I know she is going to cope just fine.

I just hope I do too.


Wednesday, January 15, 2014

An unique Christmas gift from DH, courtesy of artist Natalie Briney...

For Christmas DH got me possibly the most special and original gift ever. He commissioned a piece of art by Pilbara-based artist Natalie Briney, whose art I came across when I was covering the local annual art exhibition PACT (Pilbara Artists Coming Together) for a local paper last year. I loved her work on sight and immediately sought her out for a short interview for the paper.

After that I spent several months obsessing about owning one of her wonderful paintings, and Christmas provided the perfect excuse.

Heavily influenced by the Mexican artist Frida Kahlo, Briney nonetheless puts her own wonderfully refreshing, feminine and unique stamp on the work, to create beautiful and extremely individual pieces.

I'm not an art critic - my knowledge of art doesn't extend beyond the Leaving Cert - but I think that the future holds great things for Briney. I hope so, since I own an original!

In times where, let's face it, there's very little we want for, a commissioned piece of art is a brilliant idea for a truly unique gift. When the iPads or glittery shoes are long gone, the artwork will endure to be passed on to the next generation.

The painting is below and really, the photo doesn't even do the original justice - there are layers and texture in this piece that bring it to life, and it brightens up what otherwise would be a very dull, dark living room in our 70s mining bungalow.

The piece is called Gemini Fridas and is loosely based on the tweenager and me (see on the left the girl has 'E' stamped on her dress - that's for Emily, I'm on the right - 'C' for Claire...) and offers up a sort of challenge to us, since we spend most of our relationship arguing. Perhaps it can serve as a sort of Picture of Dorian Grey; as we bicker on in real life, our painting snuggles in for a closer hug.

Being immortalised in your own commissioned piece makes one feel like a latter-day Catherine de Medici - a patron for the arts so to speak - and I for one shall expect DH to reach such dizzy heights in the gift-buying stakes from now on.

Gemini Fridas by Natalie Briney

For more information, check out Natalie's blog http://nats-ramblings.blogspot.com.au/
or like her on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/NatalieRBriney?fref=ts

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Homeschooling for idiots...

Eldest son has been worrying me of late. His teacher has been on and off sick practically all year, necessitating his class being shared around the rest of the school - sometimes for days on end. Add in the fact that he changed schools in April, and it's fair to say he hasn't exactly thrived academically this year.

This is a worry.

The idea of homeschooling had come up already this year, when - in his budget - State Premier Colin Barnett (Hairnet) decided to charge those on a 457 visa (us) a $4,000 school fee from 2015 (read my take on it here), which would mean I'd have no choice but to home-school all of them (living nightmare). So, by way of preparation for such an eventuality, and to see if it might benefit the eldest boy, I decided to attempt a two day trial with him.

“Oh please no,” groaned DH,“next you’ll be breastfeeding him and knitting him cardigans out of hemp!
This, I felt was a little unfair; it’s true that until that moment I had considered home-schoolers to be poncho-wearing hippies who ate their own placentas, but faced with concern for my son’s education, I was having to reassess this judgement.
Anyway, what is hemp?
The first morning of the experiment dawned brightly, and I leaped from my bed full of enthusiasm for my new role. I suspected I might turn out to be a pretty amazing teacher, a sort of cross between Robin Williams in ‘Dead Poets Society’ and Michelle Pfieffer in ‘Dangerous Minds’. In no time at all I’d have my son reciting Latin phrases and scribbling algorithms on the white board in empty college classrooms at night, after he'd finished cleaning them, (or was that Good Will Hunting?). I was about to create a boy genius! And the fact that I don't know any Latin and or what an algorithm actually is did not diminish my enthusiasm one jot!
I hadn't actually organised a lesson plan, or studied his curriculum, instead I figured I'd just teach him things as they occurred to me - you know, let him learn organically - after all, how hard could it be? Besides, I have an impressive collection of books - ancient Greek drama, sociology, Shakespeare, the entire collection of Jodie Picoult novels - there was bound to be something educational in there.
This should be on the curriculum
Turning to the bookcase I scanned the shelves; my eye fell on Trinny and Suzannah's 'What you wear can change your life' - a book containing what I consider to be vital information for life, and I mean vital; until I had learned that narrow A-line skirts are the only style I should consider, I had actually gone around in skirts cut on the bias *shudder* the memory still haunts me.
Moving along the bookcase, I spotted ex-Spice Girl Gerri Halliwell's autobiography 'My Story', which although an inspirational and ultimately uplifting tale, was unlikely to launch my son onto a path of academic excellence. Pity, a bloody good read.
Surely there was something worthy of study among all these books? My eye fell on a grammar book, excellent, grammar is a vital component of a comprehensive education, and the fact that I am a qualified teacher of English to speakers of a second language (TESOL) must mean that I know this stuff inside out - right? (Ignoring the fact that my entire career as teacher of speakers of a second language entailed making animal-themed masks with my students, or teaching them 'head, shoulders, knees and toes'.)
I may need this...
Opening up at a section on restrictive clauses, I quickly read through to the bottom of the page understanding nothing. I tried again, still nothing. Do people actually know this stuff? Surely nobody needs to know this stuff? I returned the book to the shelf, telling myself I can always hire a tutor for the stuff I don't know.
I found a book about Vikings and Celts - aha, perfect! - and got him to read aloud for several minutes. (Actually it was quite interesting; did you know that the Vikings originated from Germany? No, me neither.) After that we drew some Viking ships for several minutes before running out of Viking-themed things to do.
Time for a geography lesson, I decided, pulling out an atlas. I like atlases, I find the way imagined borders not only result in differing customs, costumes, cultures and languages, but often physical differences too. Endlessly fascinating! Opening to a map of Europe, I prepared to quiz my son on some capital cities:
"Capital of Denmark?" I asked him, eyeing the map for the answer.
"Err...Germany?" he replied.
"Capital of Scotland?"
"Um, Wales?"
It was worse than I thought, the child knows nothing! I instructed him to study the map while I made some coffee and gathered my thoughts. 
Refreshed, I tried again:
“Capital of Denmark?”
"Um, Germany?" he countered.
Closing the atlas I decided to move onto life-skills. If he was to be a useful member of society he needed to be able to cook. Plus a future wife would thank me for creating a well-rounded, modern and thoughtful individual. We were going to make some bread!
Forty minutes later, our loaf emerged from the oven, rock-hard and inedible (I guess yeast was vital after all), and I was beginning to have doubts about the entire experiment.
I phoned DH, "This is hard! We're not really making any progress at all; honestly,he's simply not trying!"
Hanging up, I thought I'd try once more. "Shall we try some Japanese Haiku poetry? That just might be your thing!" I trilled brightly.
“Mum, can I go back to school tomorrow?” my son asked suddenly, eyes pleading with me, and I'll be honest, I was a bit relieved, this teaching lark is harder than it looks. Defeated I agreed – our experiment was at an end, only several hours after starting. I had failed.
My son may have learned nothing, but I certainly had: teachers do an amazing job, it takes real vocation, skill, planning and most of all, patience to teach a child, and is not something just anyone can do – not even placenta-eating hippies. And any parent who successfully manages this at home, well, I take my proverbial hat off to you!
Of course, come 2015 I may find that I have to home-school - perish the thought - and if so a mere browse of my bookshelf simply won't suffice, more's the pity. For now I’m going to leave the teaching to the teachers and confine my involvement in my children’s education to the safe territories of shape-appropriate clothing advice, and animal-themed mask making...

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Dull days in the outback and fraudulent messages from down under....

Look, I'm not saying I'm not happy to be up here in the outback, thousands of kilometres from civilisation; light-years away from bookshops, cafes, swanky bars, cinemas and the beach - and did I mention bookshops?

No, I'm not saying that at all.

However, I will admit that the first line in her memoir 'Diplomatic Baggage', by journalist and diplomat's wife, Brigid Keenan, does strike a proverbial chord with me when she writes:

"Oh God, I don't know if I can bear it. This is my first morning in Kazakhstan and it is only 11 o'clock and I have already run out of things to do and I have another four years to go (that means one thousand four hundred and sixty days) until this posting comes to an end. How on earth am I going to get through it?"

Hilarious read...
A certain truth rings loudly from this paragraph for me. Yes it is a privilege to live somewhere as extraordinary as the Pilbara - how many people can claim that? But I sometimes wonder if my awe of this existence, and thrill at the uncommonness of it, rather overshadows the actual experience itself. I suspect my sole satisfaction in living here is more to do with the the fact that I can amaze people with this information at a dinner party in the distant future. A bit like the Japanese tourist whose holiday high-point is showing people the photographs afterwards.

We've been here six months now, and now that things have finally settled down, I'm finding there's not a whole lot to do.

Of course there are the basics: there's a library, post office, newsagents, chemist, supermarket, off-licence and breathtakingly over-priced milk bar, but these things can only entertain one for so long before a yearning for the house of horrors that was Midland Gate Shopping Centre kicks in.

Yes there is a vibrant community up here and people really have to make an effort if they are to survive. Unfortunately I've little interest in being sociable unless there is wine involved, so this aspect isn't quite working for me.


View from our house...
                                                                     

And so now my days consist largely of watching CNN on the laptop (no TV channels yet) or listening to the Bush Telegraph on the radio, while fending off a lingering feeling of guilt about the still packed bags which sit accusingly in the bedroom (with all the moving we've done over the past couple of years, unpacking everything feels a little pointless).

DH did gently suggest the other day that I might think about sorting out the laundry room, which currently resembles a church jumble sale. Stung I told him I was very, VERY busy raising HIS five children, to which he replied - not unreasonably - that "Anyone who can have a bath in the middle of the day is not that busy."

I honestly could not argue this point.

Of course things do happen here occasionally; we recently had the Caravan and 4x4 Car Show Extravaganza, the title of which rather over-sold the event I felt. But there was at least a free bouncy castle which went down a treat with the children, and I even bought a can of diet coke from a stall...

But more exciting was the annual Red Dirt Rocks Ball, to which myself and DH looked forward enormously despite slight misgivings about whether 'ball' might be the correct term, particularly when the flyer mentioned that men weren't expected to wear a tie.

We debated hotly over whether my floor-length silk gown was rather OTT for the event: DH felt it was, I felt it wasn't (knowing secretly that it was too tight so the point was moot). In the end I decided on a cheap knee-length party dress from Norma Jane. It would, I felt, do just fine.

It didn't - I was decidedly under-dressed. I had underestimated the women-folk of Paraburdoo and Tom Price, who had pulled out all the glamour stops for this event. It was a little like Miss World in there (without the swimsuit section) and the women were almost exclusively in floor-length gowns adorned with diamontes, rhinestones, tulle, and in one case a full floor-length tutu! With matching hair! She looked like Glinda of Oz. I felt shabby by comparison.

The town hall had been dramatically transformed (again, I had expected little more than a few flaccid metallic balloons and some streamers) with glowing furniture, draping white fabric and glitter. If you squinted it almost felt like we were in a nightclub, and for one night I suppose we were. The whole evening was great fun, it's just a pity it only comes once a year.

Mutant Messages from a New Age Fraud

Anyway, as part of my efforts to 'make the most of it' up here in the bush, I've been trying to read as many bush/outback-based books as possible.

My first attempt was 'The girl in the steel-capped boots' which I devoted three and a half minutes to before discarding (although interestingly DH read the whole thing - he said it was because it was about life as a FIFO worker, but I reckon the romantic story-line had him captivated).

My next attempt was 'Mutant Messages from Down Under', by Marlo Morgan, which proved to be far more interesting.

The premise is a 50-year-old American health worker travels to Australia for work, and is contacted by an Aboriginal tribe named 'The Real People' who claim to carry the last remaining essence of humanity, uncorrupted by civilisation. They invite her to what she thinks is some sort of award ceremony to thank her for her work with young disaffected Aborigines. She is driven several hours into the desert and effectively kidnapped and taken on a four month walkabout, where she learns their spiritual secrets, masters their culture, learns about desert-living and eventually discovers that she's been chosen to bring their message to the world.

Front CoverI was captivated! This book is the most widely read book about Australian Aborigines in the world and has been translated into more than 20 languages. I briefly wondered if I could track down this tribe and get them to tell me their secrets to share with the world - I would lose so much weight with all that walking around, while getting a lucrative book deal afterwards! I considered getting in touch with her for their contact details.

Whenever I particularly love or hate a book, I tend to search out reviews to see if others agree. It was then that I discovered that this book had been exposed as a fraud over and over again.

Of course the signs where there - it had occurred to me that if a group of non-English-speaking Aborigines threw all my belongings onto a fire and then insisted I follow them on a four month walkabout, I might actually resist a little - a lot in fact (assuming I hadn't considered the potential weight-loss and lucrative book deal which might ensue).

A more authentic account
Also, the author is obliged to sleep on the ground in the bush, with nothing but a small dingo fur to keep warm. I thought about this for a minute - I mean, who in their right mind would do this on the very first night, having been essentially kidnapped, without making a fuss? (See the photo above for a shot of typical bushland - the potential for snakes, spiders, dingos and all sorts of other nasties is endless.)

Also, why would a group of Aborigines choose an American woman they don't know to pass on their secrets to the world? Many critics have pointed to the fact that much of the so-called 'Real People's' culture and secrets have nothing to do with real Aboriginal culture, and are more like the practices of north American Indians, something Ms Morgan might be more familiar with. And in fact when Hollywood were on the verge of taking up the story, a group of Aborigines travelled to America to confront the author about her lies. She tearfully confessed apparently, before continuing to peddle her tale once they'd left.

Would I recommend it? Well if you get it for free why not? There's always something to be learned from a book. However, as a piece of literature it's pretty poor, and there are better books on the outback out there. I'm currently reading Bruce Chatwin's Songlines, which promises a much more authentic story about outback Australia.

More on the book hoax http://marlomorgan.wordpress.com/

Thursday, September 12, 2013

From wanderluster to exile to expat - five years away and we're still standing (sort of)...

Last month marked the fifth anniversary of this family leaving Ireland. Five years - it sounds at once such a short period of time - a snippet, an ad break! - and yet the world we left behind us in Ireland seems like a murky dream, something from another lifetime.

These past five years have been eventful - life changing even. When we left Galway for Abu Dhabi back in 2008 it was with the idea that we might stay away for a year, maybe two at the most - you know, have an experience, open our minds, and all that jazz, before returning to the comfort of our lives.

However, the collapse of Lehman brothers shortly after we left - and the gory aftermath of that - combined with the realisation that this world was far bigger than our tiny part of south county Galway - meant that pretty quickly we knew we wouldn't be returning to Ireland any time soon. If ever.

In the UAE I never really thought of myself as an expat, never sought out Irish people in particular, didn't give any of it much thought to be honest. Apart from the 15% of the population who are indigenous, everyone else is from somewhere else, and nobody intends (or indeed is permitted) to stay long term. This is understood and so the only question is 'how long will you stay?' Most of the friends we made had lived in at least one other country, moving on when new and better opportunities arose. It was a way of life and we wanted in.

However, the nine months spent in Ireland after we were forced to leave the UAE (a long story) and before we left for Australia changed all that. I suddenly wanted to stay just where I was. Safe, understood, familiar; I could nail pictures to the walls of my house, order a black coffee without twenty questions, say things like 'I don't believe in God' without fear of nut-jobs reporting me to the authorities. Exotic was over-rated I had decided.

Coming to Australia wasn't thrilling.  But like the many thousands who leave Ireland every day, Australia wasn't a choice, it was a lifeline. Suddenly I was part of a group, exiled from our home country by countless feckless governments and our own fecklessness too if I'm honest. The massive mortgage we'd happily taken on six years earlier now effectively excluded us from a life in Ireland, since it could only be serviced  from the other side of the planet.

And in contrast to my light, excitable steps through the departures gate on the way to the UAE, this time I felt herded on to the plane, shambling along with all the other poor sods no longer needed in Ireland.

I sought out other Irish people, wrote articles about the experience of being part of this diaspora, read the Irish Time's Generation Emigration, and felt angry and frightened that I might never live in my own home again. How things had changed!

But as time went on I grew tired of this victim-hood, and found myself reinventing myself, I became an 'Expat', a 'Trailing Spouse', because these names suggested I'd chosen this life, that I had control over it - 'Look at me, we're off on our travels again! So very bohemian, such gypsies!' 

'How exciting, and daring!' people would say to me. 'Yes yes, it is,' I would reply vaguely, fingers crossed behind my back.

Of course I was deluding myself - I still am! But having to live in another country because your own country can't offer you anything can be a humbling experience - shaming almost - and leaves you feeling powerless, like a plastic bag being tossed around on the breeze. And the question of 'how long do I have to stay here?' loses its urgency as time passes in favour of 'How long will I get away with being here?'

Does it lessen the experience of living abroad I wonder, this lack of choice? Are my children learning any less about the world because we didn't really want to come here? Probably not, although it is up to us to view this as an opportunity not a punishment. Sometimes it feels like neither, sometimes it feels like both.

Being on a 457 (temporary) visa makes this even worse, because should you lose your job, you have just 90 days before you are obliged to leave the country at your ex-employer's expense (that's if you even have savings to sustain you during this time). We've experienced the curse of redundancy twice in the past year. Twice we've sat, shell-shocked, frightened, trying not to contemplate the worst case scenario of our situation, because it's literally unthinkable. Return home to what? you'll say to those well-meaning people who tell you you're better off at home.

When DH's employer brought us up to the Pilbara, we were overjoyed to have beaten the loneliness of FIFO and delighted at our good fortune in finding another, better job than before! When two months later - a week after they agreed to sponsor us for a permanent resident visa - DH's employer told him 'sorry, no more work', we felt as if we'd cashed in all our chips. Our luck was officially up. Is it us? we wondered. Is it we just continuously make the wrong choices? Was the well-paid FIFO job which had been turned down in favour of the Pilbara job the safer choice? How can you tell what's best for your family when you're in a foreign land?

I wanted to get out. I wanted to leave Australia and once more seize the reigns of my destiny. Australia represented the lack of choices in my life and I wanted to just leave it behind.

We looked at Canada (very stable, liberal, boring?). We looked at Norway (excellent education, years of work ahead, funny language?), then we looked down the road - because like it or not, it was the easier option in the short term. Luckily 'down the road' offered a job. Perhaps a stable one, perhaps not, I don't know, I've given up looking at it that way now.

I suppose the point of this post is that in these times, in this economic climate, we can't second guess any more. We can't plan too far ahead. There's no such thing as forever. All we can do it keep going, try to make the right decisions. Take each week at a time and hope things get better. And today they are better.

What will the next five years hold I wonder? Will I still be here, plucking stray spiders from the walls without fear, the way my children do? Will I be cutting every word in half, sticking an 'ee' on the end of it without a thought? Will I be packing my eldest off to university in Perth? Only time, as they say, will tell...