A little over a year ago it would have been impossible to imagine the world we live in now. We were humming along with our pre-COVID lives, many of us quite certain that pandemics were the stuff end-of-days Oscar winning films were made of. Little did we know …
Fast-forward to now and we’ve all suffered losses of some kind (jobs, loved ones, fitness, superannuation, freedom). It’s been the sort of steep learning curve that has taught us to count our lucky stars and make the most of what we have.
What I had as anxiety, financial stress and lockdowns dragged on, was the offer of an empty house to move into and the welcoming arms of family. The catch? They were in a whole other state. Across Bass Strait. It seemed like a giant leap to make, but if not now than when, I wondered.
I agonised for several weeks over what would be best. Finally, I bit the bullet and after decades of living in metropolitan Melbourne, I began the epic task of packing up my life and heading south to Tasmania, the state I grew up in.
In early December 2020 my youngest son and I boarded the Spirit of Tasmania with 2 dogs, 2 cats and as much luggage as we could cram into my tiny hatchback. My eldest son was flying down, and my daughter was coming a few days later to help us settle in.
We fell asleep in the middle of the sea that night and woke up at 4am. The porthole was a split screen of inky blue and night cloud. But just a couple of hours later we sited the tip-top of Tassie and soon enough were bundling our pets from kennels to car and heading into a different life.
As soon as we drove off the boat and into the lush Tasmanian countryside (accidentally taking a ‘wrong’ turn through the Central Highlands) I knew I’d made the right decision. We wound through the misty forest, past age-old ferns and fishing huts. We took in rocky prehistoric vistas, wondered if that was the spot they filmed a scene from The Hunter, laughed it off when our phones switched to ‘SOS only’.
My shoulders relaxed, my breaths drew deeper, everything felt light. I wondered if this was how everyone felt when they returned to their homeland. Whether little pieces of us are left behind at some kind of cellular level and we only feel whole again when we’re reunited. (I’m sure that’s not a very science-y hypothesis, but it’s truly how I felt.)
This feeling grew when I got to hug my mum for the first time in ages, give my big brother a squeeze and set aside the masks I’d been wearing for the best part of a year (no COVID in Tasmania!) The spectacular landscapes were the ones I’d grown up with, the light fell in a particular, familiar way, the atmosphere smelled as I’d expected it to – bushy, fresh and crisp.
The days that followed were spent catching up with family, catching up on sleep, and happily catching my breath after a really tough year.
Once we’d found our feet a pilgrimage to the little cove I’d spent every holiday at from birth to age 9 proved more comforting still. I stood barefoot on the beach taking in the same view I’d loved so much as a child. I looked for crabs under rocks near the jetty. Were they the same rocks that I’d turned over decades before? Were they even the ancestors of the same crab families?
I walked up the hill past the first and second shacks that used to be owned by my extended family. Remembered how steep it felt when climbing it with much littler legs, perhaps dragging a bucket that sloshed with sea water and shells and seaweed, a little swirl of sand pirouetting at the bottom.
From the top of the hill through the giant eucalypts that clung to the cliff edge I could see across to Bruny Island and to the far-away boat houses, dotted like teeth in the other direction.
I remembered boat trips across to Bruny on summer days with a fishy lifejacket up to my chin. Recalled fishing off the side of the boat, colourful hand lines tumbling deep into the sloshing darkness, flathead and leatherjackets and gurnards pulled up and tucked away for dinner later with salad and chips.
Down on the beach, the current-day me spotted two figures wandering along the beach. My own two grown-up sons walking the same paths that I’d walked thousands of times before them, their feet leaving footprints in the sand where I feel non-sciencey certain there are still tiny fragments of the little girl me.