It’s blindingly simple. You never fully understand or appreciate where you’re from until you leave it. Until you have to explain and defend it to others, to whom it is foreign. Only then can you see why it is the way it is, and why you love it. Nay, how intensely you love it. If travel does one thing, it shows you your roots in a way nothing else can.
As always, there’s a pithy little quote that sums up, quite nicely, what I‘m talking about (and potentially renders this column unnecessary, but who doesn’t love a good quote?)
As the traveller who has once been from home is wiser than he who has never left his own doorstep, so a knowledge of one culture should sharpen our ability to scrutinise more steadily, appreciate more lovingly, our own.
– Margaret Mead
I tend to scrutinise steadily when I’m in my home country (some, perhaps involved in the public transport or education sectors, may say steadily is a gentle way of putting it) and appreciate more lovingly when I‘m out of it. I, rather openly, have big problems with Sydney – until I leave it. I hate its snobbery and real estate obsession. I struggle hugely with its judgemental side. I despise its focus on aesthetics and social status at the expense of grit and cultural expansion. I am constantly overheard comparing Melbourne’s buzzing scenes to Sydney’s dearth of the same. I bitch endlessly about how Sydney is actually more of a ‘seen’ culture (see what I did there) – how everything we do must be noticed and celebrated and told ‘yes, that is so amazingly cool and different.’
But then you should hear me when I talk about Sydney to people who have never been. About its beauty, its food, its weather, its lifestyle. Its huge urban sprawl which encompasses some truly diverse, stunning areas (beyond Bondi, Kings Cross and Surry Hills). And if the occasion calls for a chat about my country in general (as opposed to a city-snapshot) then I assume this sort of wistful voice and talk of the spirituality of the Outback (which I genuinely believe in, but there’s no need to dramatise it as I do when extolling its virtues) and the energy of our major cities, of how different our states and territories are from one another, how you can drive for hours and not even cross a state border. How we have it all; beaches, rainforests, mountains (okay, small ones, but mountains) deserts, countryside, bustling cities …
I’m the Australian the Poms love to wind up by mentioning my country’s lack of ‘history.’ In fact, I’m a dream wind-up, I bite every time. I bark out facts regarding our 40,000 years of indigenous inhabitation, our post colonisation immigration patterns and resulting cultural influences, our unique roles in the wars of the 20th century and how they have been woven into our still-being-written mythology. I chase up such facts by a brief stint on my unique-geographical-location-and-environment-and-flora-and-fauna soapbox. I throw in a few jabs regarding our extraordinary growth in a comparatively short lifespan. We didn’t go into recession. We are enormously sporty. Our film, music and literature scenes are exciting (it’s these scenes I moan about being so ill-cared for when I’m actually at home, but that’s by the by). We have the best weather in the world. Yes, Australia is a magical land and no one appreciates it more lovingly than Travelling Liv.
Of course, I have no plans to return to this magical land any time soon – I suppose it’s enough to know that it’s waiting there for me, ready for when I troop home once again, world weary and in need of its warm embrace. So for now, I exist as Australia’s vagabond PR rep, singing its praises from afar, verbally stoushing with wicked Poms. And when I do eventually roll up on Sydney’s sandy shores once more, give me a week and I’ll be lamenting our lack of a Germanic public transport system or London-esque literary scene.
Ah, home; it’s not you, it’s me