Saturday, September 26, 2015

There’s no place like home—Tricia McGill

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Home means different things to different people. Because our news headlines have lately featured countless people fleeing their homeland and searching (currently mostly unsuccessfully) for a peaceful place to live, far away from war and destruction, it got me to imagining what it must be like to be totally homeless and without support of any kind. In fact the thought makes me shudder. I could not imagine life without a permanent home to come back to, without the sense of security that comes from being surrounded by familiar people and possessions.

Love for our homeland is another matter. I’ve had two in my life. My allegiance was to England during my early years, and I wouldn’t have considered back then calling myself anything but British. But ask me now and my immediate response would be “I am Australian”. One of my proudest moments was becoming a citizen of this country and receiving the proof of that citizenship. There are degrees of love for one’s homeland. We are free to criticize and say what we like, but let an outsider caste any sort of criticism on the land that we love, and we are quick to spring to its defense. It saddens me when I hear of people abusing the privileges bestowed on them or their parents who have been allowed to live here as free citizens and then decide, for reasons only logical to them, to go off and fight in far off places for causes against the country that offered them this freedom of choice.

My husband and I migrated to Australia many years ago as what was called back then ‘ten pound Poms’. In case you are too young to know the meaning of this term I will explain. Australia was calling for tradespeople to come here for a better life and to enjoy the prosperity of this land as long as we were willing to work hard and do our best. I already had three sisters living here so the decision was easy for me. Not so easy for my husband who left all his family behind. Our fare out was paid on the understanding that should we decide to return we would take care of the expense. I am pleased to say that once settled here returning to England was out of the question—for me. Not so my husband. He would have gone back at any time (if I agreed) because England was and always remained his homeland. That is not to say he wasn’t happy here and we had a good life. We arrived on a Wednesday, and with a letter of referral from his company in England, he started work the following Monday. I too had a job within a week. As a matter of interest, we arrived in the year Australia changed over to decimal currency and by the time we exchanged our pounds shillings and pence for dollars we had precisely $AU100 to start our lives here. Within five years we owned our own home.

I worked in a clothing manufacturing company and it was what was called back then ‘A league of Nations’. There were people from Italy, Greece, Czechoslovakia, Serbia, South Africa, and countless other countries. All came here with little and most ended up if not wealthy, comfortable, by sheer hard work. One man I worked alongside arrived on a ship with one spare pair of shoes tucked under his arm, and little else but the clothes he wore.

Recently I watched the life story of Peter Allen (one of our better known exports) on my TV. I have to admit to shedding a tear whenever I hear his song ‘I still call Australia Home’. His words bring out every patriotic part of me, and never cease to fill me with renewed pride in this country I call home. It’s hard to put into words the passion we feel for our homeland. Let’s face it, Australia, like many other countries, has been built on immigration. We owe it’s prosperity to our forebears.

Our home while traveling
So, what does home mean to me? In our traveling days, for short periods of time our caravan was home, because that is where we returned to sleep at night, and it was our security. But I have to say that while on the road I was never totally content and always glad to return to my permanent home and my own bed. This is where my personal possessions are all in one place. This is where my memories are stored. I’ve had quite a few moves in my life and each new house has become my home and the center of my world.
The dogs always came along on the trips
I recall the first trip we set out on, towing our temporary home behind us. We’d spent about three days on the road heading to Far North Queensland. I awoke in a state of panic. It hit me that I was a long way from ‘home’ here in Victoria, and that should something go wrong then I could not just hop back home in a few hours. Of course there was always the option of flying, but that didn’t occur to me back then. This panic subsided as I got used to traveling, but nonetheless I always did, and still do, experience a feeling of contentment when I near my home.

There was one instance that I was too young to remember, but apparently my eldest sister took me away from war ravaged London to somewhere in the countryside. I did nothing but cry for our mother and home, so much so that she took me back after only a couple of days. I was told years later that our mum took me in her arms and cried, for she was just as happy to have me home as I was to be there. So, my desire to be in a familiar place goes back a long time. I never strayed far from home from then on, and had our mother still been alive I would not have left England when I did.

So, here I sit in my lovely present home, surrounded by my mementos and personal treasures, and thank whatever chance, be it God, or Fate, has allowed me the privilege of always having a place that I can call home. Home is where the heart is, yes?
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