Thursday, January 12, 2012

Going away

One of the morning television programmes that I occasionally watch when faffing around in the kitchen is about families who're considering emigrating from Britain to Australia, or occasionally to New Zealand. The programme makers whisk them off to some sun-soaked, beachside city and they spend a week there investigating Antipodean life.

It's always warm and sunny. They stay in a spacious, open-plan house with a pool. They live the outdoor life most of the time but also investigate job opportunities and the price of houses and the cost of living. At the end of the week, they decide whether they would like to emigrate or not. Very often - since these are people who have been thinking of making a new life down under for some time - they decide on Australia.

But then they're shown a recording of their families and friends back home, saying (usually) how much they'd miss them and how they don't want them to go. The parents sometimes say nobly through their tears that of course the family must do what's best for them and if they feel that the opportunities are better in Australia, then they must go. But it's obvious that everyone's terribly upset at the idea. And you see the prospective emigrants, sitting on their Australian sofa in the lounge room, weeping also.

But after some wiping of tears, they go back out into the sunshine and say that they're going anyway.

I find this bewildering. While I realise that sunshine is nice, we do have good weather here too sometimes, and beautiful countryside, and interesting places to visit. I'm sure Australia and New Zealand are lovely. But why would anyone want to leave their families and friends to go so far away? This is a genuine question, not a rhetorical one.

Quite a few Australians and Americans read this blog and presumably they're mainly descended from emigrants. I wonder if you have a genetically inherited spririt of adventure? I myself am a deeply cautious person, which is doubtless a flaw, and would never leave the people and places that I know. But more than this, I could never have done it to my parents. And yet there are emigrants in my family - my grandmother's sister went to America before the First World War and my grandfather on the other side was all set to go to Australia, as I've mentioned before, only his mother begged him not to.

I tried to instill this spirit of homebodyness into my children in the attempt to make them stay by our side, though this hasn't worked terribly well, with Daughter 2 in London and Son in Perth (in Scotland). But I really don't think they would go to live at the other side of the world. It would break my heart if they did and they know this. And so I watch these people - very pleasant-seeming people - deciding that their loved ones' feelings don't matter*; and I am astonished.

(*Yes, RR, this was badly put and I apologise. I suppose I mean that their loved ones' feelings do seem to matter (hence the tears) but not so much as the benefit that they feel they'll derive from this new life. And I'm talking about whole families going - taking the offspring and grandchildren of two extended families - for no obvious reason (or, not obvious in the programmes): not love, not really employment, not poverty: just a yen to go somewhere with more sunshine. I can quite see that some people do have genuine reasons for going abroad, like falling in love. But these people don't seem to have. In fact, they usually find that house prices are higher, the cost of living is also higher and pay isn't any better. But they still seem determined to go. Of course, it's a tv programme and there may be lots of reasons behind the scenes that we don't see.)

I know, I know: it wouldn't do if everyone was like me. We'd all be living in the same cave and it would be getting very crowded.

But - could you do it? Did you do it? What did it feel like?


  1. You might remember that DD and her husband have done just that and gone off to live in the US for three years. Now they're expecting my first grandchild (see, I did say my life was running parallel to yours!)and I HATE the fact that they're so far away. And I hate that I'm such a coward about travelling alone that going to see them feels a huge thing to do. So no, I could never have done it. And though SIL's job has been well worth the move I don't think DD is really enjoying it as much as she expected. Family is everything as far as I'm concerned!

  2. I couldn't do it.

    But I'm VERY glad my grandparents/GGparents/GGGparents did.

    In many ways life here seems so much better, particularly if you're raising kids. (I'm not bagging the UK.... it's the one place on Earth I want to come and visit! But honestly... lots of people migrate to Australia from the UK... very few people go the other way. )

  3. Isabelle... I did do that.
    At the age of 18, I moved to just outside of London.... after that I moved to Canada.. I never thought of myself as an adventurous type, still dont, but yet I did that.
    My children grew up with no family around... they dont really know their cousins etc.
    My heart has always been in 2 places. I often wondered if I would do it again... but I would still want to be with my husband, have the family I have now.
    I love my life here, but it took me awhile to feel settled.
    When my Father died, I couldn't go because my passport had ran out, I swore I would never let that happen again. So when my brother and his 5 yr old daughter were killed in a fire, I went over.
    Your question has made me think... like I said before, I do love my life here, but I also miss Scotland...and as I also said... my heart is always in two places. Not making much sense.... am I :)

  4. I moved to a different city when I was married - there were many people who had to move because of their jobs. When Australia became a federated nation, neither Sydney nor Melbourne would agree to the other city being the national capital, and so the compromise was to found a new city, within New South Wales, but with its own territory excised from the state. The Parliament was opened there in 1927, and from the 1960s the government got serious about transferring most of the public service there. Thus my move, and so most of my life has been spent away from my birth city and state.
    So I do sympathise, especially as one child chose to move away herself.

  5. I often find myself saying "If only our ancestors hadn't come to America". I love it here, but I do love the UK too and I wonder what it would have been like if I'd been born there. I left home and moved far away and it didn't seem strange at all -- we'd grown up moving, so moving was nothing new. I remember thinking it a bit odd when my mom was crying at the airport when we were moving to Germany for three years -- I'd so rarely seen her cry. And even odder, after 20 years of marriage, my sister and my parents moved to the city where we live -- so we all ended up together after all. I don't really feel like our family belongs here though and it's a bit weird to think that this is probably where my kids consider home. I kind of feel a little guilty that it isn't someplace cooler, but we went where the job took us.

    Sheesh. That was a long winded way of saying family is most important. Before we were all together we traveled a lot to be together.

    Why, oh why, won't our babies just come home???

  6. We emigrated from London to Melbourne when I was two and a bit, as Ten Pound Poms, back in the 60s. My mum's family (sister and family, brother, father) all promptly followed. My dad, who I suspect was the instigator of the scheme, had the sort of upbringing where family wasn't as important, so I guess it wasn't as much of an issue for him. He was an only child, sent off to boarding school at the age of seven, and only saw his parents once a year or every couple of years as they were in India/Borneo/various other places, and he was usually shunted off to the Welsh relatives for extended holidays when the school year finished.

    My brother and I grew up in Melbourne, and then shortly after the mister and I got engaged, my parents moved interstate (again, my father's choice) and so they have not been around for their grandchildren. My mother is very sad that she's missed being a regular part of her grandchildren's lives, but I don't think my dad is fussed. The women go where the men lead, in my family.

    Makes me sad.

    Gosh I appear to have written an entire blogpost in your commentbox. Sorry.

  7. I take exception to "deciding that their loved one's feelings don't matter", people move to other places for all sorts of reasons. Most often for work or because they had the misfortune to fall in love with someone from another town or even country.

    My mother did it before me - married an Englishman and moved from Los Angeles to London in 1964. One of Dad's sisters married a Mauritian and moved there, another one emigrated to Australia and later moved to New Zealand. "Family" was always an international term for me, I was confused by the idea of being in the same town as all your cousins, surely cousins were people who lived far away? So you could say the example was already set. If I had remained in the UK I would always have wondered what life in California might have been like. I might have stayed in London or moved to Glasgow, either way I would have had a sister in Berlin and wonderful cousins in Australia, California, Spain and France that I only got to see once every blue moon.

    People of mixed nationalities don't get the option of living close to both sides of their family. We have to choose. I moved far from my parents, but also closer to my only living grandparent, and my American aunts and cousins. I chose California at the time because my job prospects seemed better. I never really thought about if I'd live here forevermore, I still don't know if I will, but this is a good city for both my husband's and my lines of work and we have wonderful friends here.

    Job opportunities are important. My husband is the only one of his immediate family to leave his small Pennsylvania home town, and he is also the only one of his siblings to have a bachelors degree and a professional job. Though the cost of living is lower in his home town, job opportunities are extremely limited and two of his siblings work as restaurant and/or bar wait-staff, one sister is a medical receptionist. For him to have the middle class career he wanted it was necessary to leave home. The U.S. Navy was one of his few options, and they brought him to the West Coast. If he had stayed in state he still would have ended up in Philadelphia or Pittsburgh, both 200miles from his family.

    It's also worth considering that for some (many?) people, the relationship with family may be stifling and emotionally unhealthy. Moving away can be the best way to preserve some good will when you can't bear constant exposure.

  8. After that screed, I should add that I'm sure my parents feel a little differently about all this, and when I start a family I know I will keenly feel the distance between us.

  9. I moved countries at the age of 23 - following a man of course! When you're that age nothing is forever, you have all the time in the world, and family aren't so important. 17 years later I'm still here, still with the man and adjusted to a different country ... if anyone can properly adjust to Canberra :) I don't think I ever thought of it as a big step, not at the time.

  10. I lived in Germany as a 19 year old mother, first time away from home and with a new born. Looking back I can't believe I did it and now wish I had realized what a opportunity I had! The telephone bills were outrageous, but I think it set up my wanderlust; my goal is to live in Ireland. With all the technology we have visits are a skype away. My kids think its great they will have someone to stay with when they visit.

  11. That is why I am SO pleased that my younger son and his Kiwi fiance have returned to NZ and want to start a family ( as soon as they are married which isn't till next year. ) they both have got good jobs - start next week.

    Our ancestor was only 14 when he came with his Uncle to NZ. They all came to have a new start - make some money and get ahead.That was in 1857 - things were grim work wise in England back then. Ancestors on my side came for similar reasons. They had young kids and were being worked into the ground for no return.

  12. Well, you just knew I would resond to this didn't you?!

    I fell in love with a Aussie. I was 35, I returned to my job in the uk and my phone bill was so high, British telecom contacted me twice to ensure I could pay it! We later worked out that I could have afforded 2 busines class return flights to Oz with the money I spent on phone bills!

    He came to the UK, we married there and we worked for 4 years, buying a house etc.

    He became a little homesick and I was up for a new start. So we left for OZ. Not easy and it took lots of thought and discussion and yes, I do miss my family. I know thay miss me too.

    Mum and Dad have always said that their children must live their own lives. But I know it has been hard for them. However, I can ring anytime I like and skype etc(I think of my M in L, who had to book a call back to the UK in the 60's and how expensive it was). She told me she had dreadful homesickness and unlike me could not just jump on a plane and be home in 25hours.

    I couldn't have done this without the support and love of my parents and I thank them for instilling in me an independent spirit. They love me and let me go. I thank them for that too. I shall now email my Pa and see if he wants to respond to your question.

    Ps we are back in the uk again later this year....can't keep away ( although Oz is now my home)!

  13. What a thought and comment provoking post. I too am a homebody and found it very challenging when my youngest son decided to study Japanese. He has already been for an extended trip and his degree will include a year there. After that who knows where it will take him. My grandfather left the UK at 17 to go opal mining in India and never came home again. But we have Skype and so many easy ways to communicate that I must respect his free will and hope that it opens up my world a little.

  14. I am the opposite. I'm someone who can go into a country churchyard about eight miles from where I now live and can point to relatives buried there, and point, and point, and point. Generations and branches of a large farming family.
    Does it make me closer to my existing relatives? No, I don't think so. Do I wish I had been braver and moved away? Yes. My parents both died when I was very young, so it wasn't parental pressure that made me stay. No one made me stay. I was scared of the new, and that's no way to live.

  15. I am HHnB's father(see her comment above). I see that she wrote her comment, from Australia to you in Scotland, at 7.36 am. She emailed me, here in UK, at 7.43 am to tell me of it, I replied and now write this here at 9.10am.

    Absolute immediacy! Distance does not matter any more. We can chat by email (or Skype if we chose), my phone package enables us to phone Australia "free of charge" at any time. We can be together within a couple of days if necessary. Two years ago our son, her brother, died suddenly on a Friday; she was here with us by the following Tuesday.

    We love her very dearly but would never wish to "possess" her because that would be selfishness, not love. Yes, there are times when it would be nice to sit together over a cuppa for a chat and she is not here, but that would still apply if she lived 90 miles away rather than 9,000.

    Kahil Gibran said all this far better than I can. See:

  16. Our younger son went for a twelve-month working holiday in Canada seven years ago next month.....and is still there. He has a wonderful partner (who would not have been in his life had he stayed in Australia) and we love her dearly, she is the daughter we never had. We have had two trips over to see them and are planning another trip later this year; until he sorts out his position re permanent residency he is staying put, and we understand that. We keep in touch by skype and email. I wish I had been more adventurous when younger, although I did move away (with great relief, I may add) from the country town in which I was born and grew up. If I had stayed I would have been stifled; there was nothing to keep me there as we were not a close family, for reasons I won't go into here.

  17. Some of my relatives emigrated to the US and Canada in the 1960s and I remember the family gathering in our living room (my parents were the only ones with a phone) for the annual calls at Christmas. Visits were beyond everyone's means in those days. When I was 11, my much older brother applied to emigrate to Canada and I remember crying and crying at the thought of him leaving but he was refused (on health grounds, he had epilepsy)and then I felt very guilty! I(along with my parents) struggled with being away from home when I went to university (the only one in my original family to do so) and I wouldn't have dreamt of not returning to my home town after graduating. I married a local lad and we've been here ever since. On the other hand, I've tried to encourage my own children to be more adventurous (I realise that this town has little to offer on all fronts), and one has made her home in a different part of the UK whilst the other is still deciding what he wants to do and where. That's not to say I don't wish we could all end up in the same place. I'd have hated not being on hand when my brother and parents needed intensive support in their final years. But that's me.

  18. Lizzie1:52 pm

    But London and Perth are not so far away and you have a perfectly scrumptious grandson almost on the doorstep!

    I agree the reasons people on these programmes move often seem trivial and incomprehensible, but I would hate to feel my children felt tied simply because I might (and would) miss them!

  19. My husband had only lived in 2 houses his whole life until he was drafted into the Army and sent all over the world. My family had moved around a bit so when Mac and I were married it seemed normal to be leaving home, though I missed my family, but I would have missed him more. We never lived near our families again, and at times that was very hard. But I made the decision that wherever we were would be home and that's how we'd think of it. So my husband and our daughter were my family,. I've said before our daughter lives 600 miles from us and that's hard, much harder than having my parents, when they were alive, far away. I know that eventually we will move to be closer to her because she's still living a busy life while we've slowed down.

  20. My sister and brother-in-law and two small children went to Australia when I was 18 and wanted me to go too - I didn't want to and it would have left just my brother with my parents. My parents only saw their grandchildren once after that and my sister twice. I only saw my sister again twice before she died in 2008. My brother-in-law now says he regrets it very much and they had been making plans to return in old-age. I feel I missed out on knowing my sister as an adult and being an aunt to her children, but, and it's a big but, we have our children to bring them up and let them go and if that means they go to the other side of the world we aren't any less their parents. It's so much cheaper and easier now than in the 70's and 80's and with skype I talk to my brother-in-law frequently - more often than I see or talk to my brother who's only 100 miles away!

  21. Anonymous5:17 pm

    I'm one of the " Movers ", leaving behind parents who were sad to see me go, but adamant they wanted me to feel free to make my own choices, do my own thing and go my own way. Am I aware of the hurt I caused by leaving ? Absolutely ! Could I have staid ? Definitely and absolutely not - they raised me to be independent and while none of us may have thought about it taking the form it did, neither would they have wanted me to stay " at home " because of them. I've never regretted doing it, although they're both now gone, I know they were at ease with the decision in the knowledge it made me happy.
    I can quite understand your point of view, I'd like to think that if it was me I'd be able to follow my parents example but.....we don't know until we're asked do we ?

  22. Well, as you know, I am a nomad too. I married an Englishman and moved to the UK and then back to South Africa when I was expecting my first child. Then we moved back to the UK in 1990. My sister married a German born man who lived in Switzerland. And my parents waved goodbye to their entire family over 3 weeks. My husband first then my sister's husband, then my sister and then me, with my 3 children. They were incredibly sad, but never once asked us to stay. They knew it was right for us.
    And now I have a son in London, and a daughter in New Zealand. And a son contemplating a move as well.
    I understand them wanting to move, to follow their dreams and fly. I raised them to be happy independent adults,capable of making the right choices for their lives. Of course I would love to see more of all of them, but I would hate the idea of them feeling that they had a responsibility to me. For me. They have theor futures to think about, and that of my grandchildren, you see. I left SA for the sake of my own children's future, and I would do it again in a heartbeat. What I wanted was secondary to their opportunities. And my parents moved too in 1997, and my Mum divides her time between us all. Travel is now in our blood. Geoff spent his working life travelling the globe as a senior officer in the merchant navy. Saying goodbye was routine. The love stays, though. And I can roam the globe and visit them all too¨!

  23. Anonymous4:47 am

    Hi Isabelle,

    Sometimes the rellies can't prevail. We came to Oz when I was a kid, one of four. My father's job had evaporated due to discrimination after a company takeover ( which wouldn't be allowed now). Dad, Mum, four kids under 11 and poor job prospects in his industry in the British Isles. We had few options; Australia has been good to us. We all have university education and good jobs. We left behind one grandparent + assorted aunts, uncles and cousins. Migration wasn't a selfish option, but the best choice for our family's future: six has become 17.

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