19-22 August: A crossroads in our lives – and we have taken the path to England

Author: Mr A

Location: Cairns, Queensland, Australia

As some of you may know, we have taken what for us is the momentous decision to move back to the UK, leaving behind a country we both fell in love with over twenty years go.

Catherine fresh off the plane in Sydney - day 1 in Australia

Catherine was 25 when she first stepped off a plane with a one way ticket and a backpack, most of her adult life has been spent here, and for me its been all of my forties, fifties and half of my sixties! We met here, we married here, it’s where our careers were made. We also forged what we know will be life long friendships, that the tyranny of distance will now not win against.

Our decision has caught many of our friends by surprise, even though we have made no secret of considering the option seriously for over a year now.

I guess it’s difficult for many to understand why we would want to leave such a country so rich in the many of the things we love. The wide open spaces, the diversity of wildlife, favourable weather and the outdoor life. So this blog is going to be an attempt to explain that decision in a little more detail, for those that are interested.

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We have spent the last few years taking longer and longer trips back to the UK and Europe. The drawcard has been twofold; to see our respective immediate families (they are all in the UK, bar one…Catherine’s dad in New Zealand), and to visit mainland Europe. It was becoming increasingly difficult to say goodbye to them.

The clincher came when we were locked down in England last year, renting a small cottage in a little village in the south west. Pulling on our hiking boots almost every day, or setting off on our bikes to explore the local countryside, it was one of the happiest times we have ever spent. We both love the history, the ever changing landscape through the seasons, and yes, the variety of that famous British weather that is the topic of so much conversation 🙂

We fell back in love with the British countryside

Even though we couldn’t see our family that much because of travel restrictions, we found being on the same time zone made a huge difference.

We also have had several incredible trips to Europe over the last few years. A six week taster in a motorhome through France and Germany, then the following year a longer exploration of ten countries over many months. We fell in love with the food and wines of France and Italy , the mountains and lakes of Austria and Slovenia, the soaring peaks of the Pyrenees and the Alps. It was just a feast of the senses for us, and we are greedy for more.

We also are missing having a home base we can just come back to when we need or desire. We have been renting our house out for four years to help fund our nomadic wanderings, which has worked really well, but we have missed being physically part of a community. The opportunity to cash out of Sydney’s property market presented itself, and last week we sold our house on Sydney’s Northern Beaches. We managed to get agreement to a long settlement to the end of January, so now have a few months to prepare for the big move .

Despite being in need of a cosmetic upgrade our house sold in 3 days, breaking the street record!

Not only do we have all the normal things to do, like selling what we don’t want or can’t ship (caravan and car the big ones!), but we have some extra hurdles to jump because of the pandemic. For instance, Australia has a very tight policy on international travel, and we need to get travel exemption approval to leave the country. There are specific categories recognised as “compelling reasons” to travel, but migration isn’t one of them. However, we have heard of people who have migrated and gained the exemption. It all seems a very opaque approval process, with celebrities, sports stars, and the uber rich appearing to come and go at will.

We have just had to pay a chunk of sterling for our furnished accomodation to see us through the first few months in England before our container will arrive and while we are house hunting, so our Department of Home Affairs had better let us leave now, as we’re pretty committed. Hopefully by the time we are allowed to put our application in (early December) things will have eased up with vaccination rates much higher.

Next there are the all important flights to book, not just for us but for Tassie. We had always thought we wouldn’t put her through what will no doubt be a stressful time for her, but are now trying to balance that against our own needs. Tassie is a very adaptable cat, moving around so much with us over the last few years has hopefully trained her to manage travel and change, so we hope that stands her in good stead to cope with the journey. We know we can offer her the best home once we get through this phase.

Princess Tassie the adventure cat

So that is our plan and rationale for the move. It has been an interesting couple of weeks to say the least, everything has happened so quickly. But in between all of that we managed to have a lovely couple of nights out in Cairns. We have a friend who now lives in Provence, France, who suggested we pop in to see her friend, the multi talented Becky. Locals always know the best places to eat, and Becky was no exception. The Thai cafe she took us to had some of the best food we’ve had on this trip! We even followed dinner with our first posh bar this year and cocktails.

Delicious authentic Thai dinner

Then right next to our campsite was a fab Italian restaurant, again one of the dining highlights of the year. Joining us was the lovely Claire (who I forgot to take a photo of!) with her new baby Elizabeth. We met her in quarantine in Darwin, when she was on the same “cell block” as us at Howard Springs. We ended up forging a relationship in those sometimes challenging circumstances, as you do.

Cuddles with baby Elizabeth who watches mum carefully

A couple of trips in and around Cairns also saw us having a wander around the Botanic Gardens and then to a hydro electric scheme on the Barron River.

Barron Gorge

A trip into the city also rewarded us with a market full of exotic tropical fruits. Purchases were made of new to us ones like black sapote (tastes like chocolate mousse) and abiu (caramel flan like taste), then our old favourite the custard apple (and yes it does).

A shopping trip into Cairns took us to Rusty’s Market for fresh produce
The Cairns Botanic Gardens were a highlight
Beautiful gardens

But mostly our heads have been buried in thoughts of what the next few months will bring. I’m sure it won’t all go smoothly, and there may well be those moments in our future when we look at each other and wonder about our chosen path.

We will miss our friends here a great deal, and we know that and have to accept it. We will miss wandering around in remote bush wondering “when was the last time someone trod on this piece of Country?”. We will miss the unique sounds, smells and colours of the outback.

I don’t think Australia’s essence has ever been captured better than by the second verse of Dorothea Maceller’s poem “A Sunburnt Country”.

I love a sunburnt country,
A land of sweeping plains,
Of ragged mountain ranges,
Of droughts and flooding rains.
I love her far horizons,
I love her jewel-sea,
Her beauty and her terror —
The wide brown land for me!

Interestingly, she wrote this while living in England, and was terribly homesick. Perhaps there’s something genetic that brings us back to the comfort of our roots? I just know we both feel its time to make England our home again.