Home in Newcastle after 13 years, ‘I lurch from comfort to displacement’

Home in Newcastle after 13 years, ‘I lurch from comfort to displacement’

February 4, 2019

“How can I help you, love?”

"I’m not sure. I’ve never bought blinds before,” I said.

“Well you’ve come to the right place, pet”.

I am buying blinds for my house. A house I haven’t lived in for 13 years. A house we’ve just returned to live in three weeks ago. A house and a life I barely remember and yet resonates with me still. Because the house is in my home town and after pushing our luck in the big city, we are now back to reclaim it.

Lindy Burns is discovering what life is like back in the loved home-town, after more than a decade away.Credit:Rodger Cummins

I’m getting very used to being called love or mate or pet. I’ve heard them 27 times over the past three weeks.

Once I might have been uncomfortable being addressed as such, but here it seems completely appropriate. Newcastle, like most regional cities and towns, is friendly. Conversations are mostly informal and laidback.

After 13 years it’s taking a bit of getting used to.  The pub is still there but it’s all craft beer now. And wasn’t that block of apartments a Spotlight? And that once dodgy suburb is now the new black? Really?

I keep expecting to run into the old me. The reality is that after 13 years away, I’m a new me.

‘Newcastle, like most regional cities and towns, is friendly. Conversations are mostly informal and laidback. After 13 years it’s taking a bit of getting used to.’Credit:Quentin Jones

We are all renovated versions of ourselves and we now have to mesh the memories of the older variants together with the new ones.

There are many moments of deep memory-triggering.

I’d forgotten how warm, humid air smells. Musty and fragrant. And how welcome that quick blast of cooler southerly breeze is when it finally makes its way up the east coast.

I’d forgotten what it’s like to just drop in on your Dad. How people remember you from school or university.

I walked onto a favourite beach the other afternoon and stood in the shallows for a moment. Sinking deeper into the wet, apricot-coloured sand. I remembered numerous 70s/80s summer holiday afternoons standing at that exact point – bikini-clad, best friend by my side, wondering if (insert boy of current choice) was out there somewhere beyond the breakers testing his new board.

I changed doctors in Melbourne once and the previous clinic had lost (read: purged) my records after two months.

I’d forgotten too, how in a country town, it takes a while but once you’re in, you’re IN.

I’ve rung my old doctor’s clinic, my former dentist and another medical specialist’s office and they all still had me on file! From 13 years ago! I changed doctors in Melbourne once and the previous clinic had lost (read: purged) my records after two months.

I’ve had to find new shops, but have made sure to use the same butcher as my Dad. There are stakes attached to my decision making now.

I passed by old teenage haunts and watched other kids and teenagers play on the same oval outside the cinema. I’ve thought of friends who I still know and others who I have long lost touch with.

‘I’m getting used to the changes in the place I still call home. I know that time will smooth that out – that I will come to love it as I once did.’Credit:Darren Pateman

I’ve loved that the traffic light sequencing is as bad as ever. I love that it’s driving my husband mad although as I mentioned to him, for the past 13 years his traffic experience has been peak hour 40 minute lurches over the Westgate Bridge in Melbourne so surely this is an improvement. He said he’d get back to me.

I’ve sat out the back of the house and pondered the vast amount of work the garden needs. I miss my Melbourne garden. I miss the garden that used to be here, long killed off by understandable neglect from tenants. I miss the friends we made down south.  I'm getting used to the changes in the place I still call home. I know that time will smooth that out – that I will come to love it as I once did.

Most of all I miss my mother. I’ve never lived here without her and her recent loss is more keenly felt here. She had hoped for 13 years that we would return and live here again as we are doing now. I recognise the sad irony that it’s been her death that has prompted us to finally make the move. I feel guilty about that and can image the sardonic look on her face if I could tell her.

I lurch from comfort to acute displacement. Sometimes within an hour.

I lurch from comfort to acute displacement. Sometimes within an hour. I recognise that this is hardly an uncommon experience. That more and more people are moving to other places. Then moving back. They too are spending emotional energy and time trying to carve a new groove in their lives.

But in the end would I recommend it? The woman who wanted to sell me my blinds was curious about how we were all finding it. This return. “It’s probably too early to tell," I say.

But my work desk has a view of trees rather than traffic. I miss the gritty joy that is the number 96 Melbourne tram, but today I cycled to work along a riverbank and will be at the local pub (with its craft beers) by 5.30pm rather than 7. I’m hoping my husband will join me, but that will depend on how he goes with the lights.

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