Memoir

Prodigal daughter

AS I DRANK wine in my narrow South London garden with blaring reggae beats from three neighbourhood parties, I dreamed of going home to Australia, to the land of light and air and space.

I tore myself away from my job, my high-flying friends and well-connected colleagues, culture on tap, a diverse media. It was a huge wrench and I couldn't help fearing that all the reasons for leaving would come flooding back the moment I landed. The front-page headline on The Gold Coast Bulletin did nothing to allay my concerns. It read, "Netballer banned for punching opponent". This was not the information I needed.

When I left, I was a young woman with high hopes willing to take a risk, start over. I have returned in middle age and must somehow steal a place on a field overflowing with tal­ented baby boomers who never quite fulfilled their potential. Eighteen years ago I could see no other way but to leave. Had I stayed, I could not see what would become of me. Now I wonder about that again. Perhaps I left the homecoming too late.

Now I see that the decision to return was the easy part, settling and making my way here is the big test. Stay away long enough and you cease to exist. I had fallen off the electoral roll, although the tax office had not forgotten. Even when I produce an old photo licence, the Road Traffic Authority insists on a driving test for a new licence.

Through this re-entry phase, I can't help thinking that I am being punished for having the audacity to leave "Godzone". The message is reiterated time after time. It takes me three journeys and three long queues to get a new Medicare card. Being Australian is not enough. I must prove that I am here to stay. Meanwhile, my husband, an English immigrant, is processed immediately. My son's school sends a letter proving he is enrolled and I produce a shipping bill showing 272 items are en route from the United Kingdom. But the answer is still "no". My passport does not have a stamp in it showing when I arrived. I almost explode, "How can I help it if the immigration people don't stamp my passport?"

Finally, I am told that all will be well if I produce a boarding card.

Now we're talking. Like any good Australian I keep a beady eye on my frequent-flyer points. The road back is not paved with gold, but lots of points.

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