Unpacking a Life – The Wanderer’s Art of Moving (Part 1)

I’ve moved a lot over the years, maybe more than I should have. Perhaps this makes me a wanderer. I am less of a physical wanderer now, at least at the moment, but over fifteen years I lived in four different cities, often moving within cities.

I first left Sydney for Canberra. Fittingly perhaps, as I spent the first two years of my life there when I was adopted from Sri Lanka. I was only three when I said goodbye to Capitol Hill and moved to Hornsby. I can’t remember anything (strangely enough, five years ago I could recall the name of the suburb and street I lived on when I first came to Australia. But as I write now my mind is blank).

I had already acquired a lot of books after moving out of home five years previously. Of course, I got the day of the move wrong. My mate Patrick was over at my place when I received a call from the removalist that evening: “Just checking you’re ready for tomorrow.” “Tomorrow?” “Yes, you’re moving from Sydney to Canberra?” “Oh, yes, of course. That’s right.”

I was only half packed. Who knows why I thought it was the day after tomorrow. Patrick gleefully turned to me and started chanting, “Pack, pack, pack!”

I still had a lot of books to box up. I gave the TV to the next door neighbour who received it with her usual nutty delight. It was an old and heavy TV. But my girlfriend was mad that I gave it away. She had painted some trees and mushrooms on it. Rita was the reason I was moving to Canberra. She had been there a year, working as an advisor to a prominent member of parliament.

Canberra’s not a bad place to live. The living standard is high because it’s the seat of federal government. There are good public sector opportunities. Public transport is almost non-existent, but you’ll likely be able to afford a car on your public servant wage.

I used my time in Canberra to gain valuable work experience. I also gained valuable artistic experience, expanding my jazz piano knowledge under Paul Dal Broi and playing in my first jazz band with Eric Pozza on bass and Brenton Holmes on drums. Only in Canberra could your humble writer afford a three bedroom house and have a jazz quartet jam in the lounge room. John Baczynski joined us on sax.

Toucani. Eric Pozza (bass), John Baczynski (sax), Mark Body (drums), Dan Wild (keys)

There is no better adrenaline rush than playing in a jazz quartet. The driving sax, the rolling drums, and … the bass. We played the Moruya Jazz Festival twice, the first time as a trio, then as a quartet. My favourite gig? The Thales corporate xmas party at the Australian War Memorial. How often do you get to play under a submarine hanging from the ceiling? I think we should have set up on a tank.

Objects acquired during my three years in Canberra were many, manifold and miscellaneous. But moving back to Sydney started a familiar pattern. What to keep, what to throw? In the end I made a few hundred dollars selling some furniture, but most of my stuff I gave away, including half my book collection. This was the beginning of my fabulous relationship with charity shops.

I sold my piano too 🙁 but kept my keyboard. This is a sturdy Yamaha which is still in the family.

On my last day in Canberra, I walked to my Hyundai parked outside the Department of Communications. At the time the Department was called the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy. DBCDE. Alphabet soup. It was my last day at work. My friend Nikhil followed me out. He laughed when he saw how full my car was. Then he gave me a hug. I almost shed a tear, got in the car, and left.

The real estate agent rang me when I was somewhere between Mittagong and Sydney. She said the place was “pretty filthy” and that she’d have to hire cleaners – $300. She was young, pretty and pretty harsh. I’d spent days cleaning the place. 

So the terrace of my teenage years came again into view. Back with the Mum. She lives in Annandale, close to the city with a decent cafe culture for writing. My cafe of choice in Annandale is Le Comptoir, a local cafe for local people! And I can practise my Mandarin because the owners are from Shanghai. I also wrote at Revolver, Black Toast, Bar Sirocco, and Clover.

Signs on Johnston Street welcome people to “Annandale Village”. I have seen no village idiots.

Annandale is cosy. My return to the nest lasted four years. I was in my early thirties. Living with the mum in a three bedroom house was no big deal. I spent the first half of this time as an editor at Thomson-Reuters, only half an hour away by light-rail. Many of my colleagues from LexisNexis were there, and for awhile it seemed like the good old times – a stable, if not high paying job, with an excellent social scene.

A recruiter from Hays began persuading me to try my luck in the contract market. I’d half-heartedly put my CV on Seek.com and my experience at the Department of Communications (DBCDE) attracted her attention.

After the third call I caved in and I’ve been a freelancer ever since. My first contract was at Transport for NSW as a Ministerial Correspondence Officer. My diligence earned me a promotion to the Customer Experience Division. And this is where my Communications career really began. 

Three years into my second sojourn in Sydney I got itchy feet. It suddenly entered my mind that I should do some travel. Actually I made this decision after seeing a hypnotherapist in Annandale who helped me a lot.

So with the help of a travel agent – Rob of Flight Centre, Town Hall – I planned a European trip. Rob helped me with the itinerary – major flights and hotel bookings. I planned the rest using SkyScanner and Booking.com, often on the fly during my trip.

Over two months I visited England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales, France and Italy. While I was in London it occurred to me that as my father was British by birth… I could live in the UK. I don’t know why I hadn’t thought of that before.

When I returned to Sydney I immediately applied for my UK residency. Citizenship is harder to obtain for me. Get this – as I’m adopted, my Dad had to apply for citizenship on my behalf before I turned eighteen. He wasn’t aware of this rule and why should he be?

So I got the next best thing, permanent residency, which I need to renew every ten years by writing a letter stating my status as an adoptee and how I’m eligible under the legislation. There is no other way! Lucky I worked as a Legal Editor at Thomson Reuters and LexisNexis and have a grasp of legal language.

Permanent residency (or Right of Abode), is substantially cheaper than citizenship – small consolation. I am denied citizenship because I was adopted by a citizen of the British Empire. Do you see the irony there? I’ve known my dad since I was six months old. Is that not long enough? I am not of his blood. Is that why you deny me citizenship, O mighty Great Britain? 

But I shouldn’t be too peeved. There aren’t too many differences (anymore) between Right of Abode and British Citizenship. Alright, I can’t join the secret service (but I wouldn’t tell you if I had). 

And I can’t work in Europe.

But British citizens can no longer live and work in Europe either! The UK has left (or is still trying to leave) the EU.

Hooray for Brexit! Go back home you frogs, you Poles, you shop-owning Slavs and overbearing Germanics. Be gone, you bureaucratic Belgians, ridiculous Spaniards and feisty Italians. Leave our shores you incompetent Greeks, you tax-evading Luxemburgians and crazy Czechs. Fly away damn Turks! What, you mean Turkey’s not a member of the EU?

Thank God for that! Amen.

To be continued …


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