In the garden

While living in Sweden, all I had to offer plants was a balcony and windowsills, not the best environment for growing. Something that I was looking forward to when we returned to Australia was the ground that would be free for me to use for whatever greenery I wanted. Images of cascading nasturtiums, tomato plants weighed down by fruit, natives adding colour and food for bees. 

Now, about 2 months after being back, these plans are underway. An aspect of gardening that I hadn’t considered properly was patience. A watched seed doesn’t sprout. 
I expected the sun and earthy vibrancy of Austalia to launch the little seedlings into life, growing obediently up trellises and across rocks. 

Plants need time, and at least in the case of snap peas, someone willing to encourage them daily to grow up the trellises I carefully made for them. 


The little reaching trendrils twist in the air, around themselves into tiny fists, and sometimes around the poles and other tendrils, going sideways and upwards. Every day a branch extends out into midair, and is poked back, tendrils twisted around the trellises with the hope that this time it’ll cling on. 

In the shade of the peas the thyme seedlings slowly grow. Getting less and less light as the peas grow, I’ll have to move them soon, before they’re completely covered.
Behind the pea trellises dwarf beans are shooting out of the soil, encouraged by the sun and rain this week, growing at about a cm a day. At this rate they’ll be climbing the back fence in a couple of weeks, and maybe even giving me some return for dinner and snacks.

Rocket plants taken from my mum’s garden have also been heading upwards fast, and are now collapsing under their own weight, hopefully ready to seed and start again. A salad for the warmer week ahead is waiting in their thick leaves.

Elsewhere zinnias and lavender grow, providing for the bees and birds that hover around. Nasturtium shrubs, planted many weeks ago, are clinging on in the rocky, sandy soil, new leaves showing that they haven’t given up yet, though it’ll be sometime before they spread uncontrolled over the rockery, bright flowers blooming.

By the protection of the house, geraldton wax and red leschenaultia slowly thrive, their hardy and vibrant flowers very typical of the dry, harsh but giving conditions of the south west. A boronia bush waits to spread, strawberry seedlings hold in their fruit and a native berry bush grows up towards the light.

There is greenery, colour and in the future fruit, but like settling in to your old home and life, it takes time.

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Leaving Sweden

I’m letting the cat out of the bag this week. It’s a rather big cat and to be honest one I’d rather keep in the bag, but as with so much in life the bag-opening decision was taken out of our hands. Too many metaphors? In short, we’re moving back to Perth at the end of May.
There, I’ve said it.
Some of you may already know, in which case you’ll know the reason. Which is an illness in the family. We can’t stay over here while people we love suffer and fade day by day. Even though there are many things about this decision that make me sad, I know that it’s the right decision.

It will mean a huge change in our lives, and rather than imagine it as a return to the old life, I’m trying to frame it as the next adventure. We’ve changed and grown, and I’m not the person who jumped on a plane into the unknown almost 3 years ago. And once this next stage is over and we’re ready to consider our next adventure, I’ll be someone else again.

Perhaps we’ll even be able to return to Sweden, or live somewhere nearby that would allow us to visit regularly. That is an unknown at the moment, though one thing we are sure about is that we want to keep moving, regardless of whatever else happens in our lives. I’ll try and take Neil Gaiman’s words with me, and continue the journey with my eyes and my heart wide open.

Spring

Spring

A tourist at home

I am writing this from my apartment in Göteborg, as outside the sun shines the the flowers continue to bloom in every possible hue. It’s a contrast to the overcast chill of my last day in Perth, an irony that is definitely not been lost on me.

The morning choir

The morning choir

Though it has resulted in this post being a few days later than usual, I thought I’d wait till I returned to Sweden to write the final post about the trip to Australia. Now that I’m back I have a different perspective than what I had when I was sitting in my old bedroom, listening to the magpies in the trees outside the window. Sitting here in the apartment, listening to the cars roar past on the highway outside the window, the whole trip seems almost unreal. It’s the feeling I was somewhat expecting when we arrived in Perth 3 weeks ago, as though the months in Sweden had been a passing fancy, and we were now back home at last. Instead I felt off balance for about two weeks, a mix of jetlag and an unsettling feeling that the familiar was foreign. I tried to explain this to family and friends, and I’m not sure now whether it made sense, or whether I inadvertently sounded as though I was gladly clear of our home town. Although, the only way to really sound like a native is to knock it, right?

A black swan

A black swan

One part of the trip that I very much enjoyed was getting to spend time in by myself among trees. I do that here as well, but it’s different when it’s the types of trees and shrubs I grew up with and can name. There were walks around the home, including finding half of a smashed bee hive in the empty trunk of a fallen branch that still smelt of honey and visiting one of my favourite parks.

A pearly eucalypt

A pearly eucalypt

The pine plantation that surrounds the park was my childhood image of a fairy tale forest, and I spent hours there acting out adventures with friends or just wandering by myself and staring up at the towering pines and pretending I was in a forest in a far off land.
My family had bbqs in the curve of a creek, under a tree whose leaves turned gold in Autumn, and one of my favourite photos of my dad was taken there, as he supervised the wood-fire bbq.
Also in the park is an old oak, planted in 1870 which from a distance looks dense and no taller than the eucalypts surrounding it. When you walk along the raised platform and step underneath, it’s as though you’re inside a dome of leaves, sheltered by branches that reach almost to the ground that are in turn held up by an immense trunk. I’ve seen karri trees over 70 metres tall in the south of WA, and old olive trees in Italy, but for me they don’t compare to that old oak.

A 144 year old oak

A 144 year old oak

In addition to walks in the forest, I spent most of the final week driving around to last-minute catch ups, and eating a lot. I just looked at my calendar and Sunday through to Thursday are back-to-back lunches, afternoon teas and dinners. I also managed to see my grandma, who I haven’t seen in many years. It’s impossible to replace nine months of casual meet ups with a few hours over tea or a meal and surprisingly surprising to remember that time passes at the same speed across the world. People move on to new jobs, try new things, change plans and go about their lives, irrespective of any imaginary pause buttons. Hearing of new plans and ideas, I’m looking forward to seeing how much change another year will bring.

Dinner at Little Creatures

Dinner at Little Creatures

So what have I learnt from the trip?

That a holiday and visiting an old home are not the same thing.

Nothing beats good food and good company.

It takes a few days for my native accent to cease being hilarious.

Something can be both familiar and foreign at the same time.

Home doesn’t have to be one place.

Things that don’t change

I am happy to announce that my jetlag is over, yay! I have also ceased to giggle at Australian accents, although once or twice I have drifted to the right side of the road. Fortunately only my nana was there to briefly panic and suggest the other side might be better, so no incidents occurred.

The stainglass window in Forrest Chase

The stainglass window in Forrest Chase

This past week was a bit less planned out than next week, so on Monday I found myself at loose ends. My partner had started working so was unavailable for adventures, as were most other people I know, so I decided to head into ‘the city’. I still can’t help but think of it in inverted commas, despite the constant growth. Like a younger sibling, I’ve seen it grow, and grown up with it. From visits to the museum with mum and grandma to see the whale skeleton, to wandering up to 78 Records with my school friends, to working in A. B. Facey House and then after work drinks in new, crowded bars. And like a younger sibling, I have an irresistible urge to condescend, just a little bit.

London Court

London Court

It has grown since I was last there, though is still in flux, with giant stretches of construction sites and cranes peeping among the towers. I suppose some day it’ll be finished, but it won’t happen while the boom is still booming.

Perth from South Perth

Perth from South Perth

I caught the train in from Midland, and for those who know Midland, it is still very much Midland.

Midland train station

Midland train station

Once in the city I wandered, discovering that the final cinema in the city is gone and that otherwise little has changed. One of my favourite restaurants, The Greenhouse, is still there and I had a lovely lunch, which included the finest lemonade and the third best dessert I’ve ever had.

Lemonade

Lemonade

I then did a tiny bit of shopping and decided to catch the ferry across the river, because why not. Once across I took pictures of the city, and then strolled back around the river, with the sun in my eyes and the familiar trees and the walk warming me up.

The next day I had scheduled lunch with my dad, and then dinner at the house of 2 very good friends. I got up, baked an apple pie for dinner, then headed out to see my dad. It was a day and night of food and conversation, and wonderful company, and I finished by feeling extremely replete, and not just in my very full belly.

An apple pie

An apple pie

On Wednesday morning I drove down to Mandurah, where my nana lives, to spend the night. She is my father’s mother, and has lived down there for as long as I can remember. I have many childhood memories of christmas holidays spent at the beach, and lounging around the old house. I can remember the hot bitumen as we ran barefoot from the old red 4wd to the sand, the tides forming new sand banks each time we visited, the slick slatherings of suncream on my skin, the old fashioned music in the car and the sand that built up in the shower as we rinsed off the salt-water.

The summer beach

The summer beach

Creamy mashed potato, the old piano, playing with my cousin, trips to the shops, movies in the lounge and the hours of quiet reading and cards as the afternoon drew on. Years later the furniture has been moved around, the beaches seem smaller and the house still smells and feels the same. A constant, like lamingtons, the wisdom of old ladies and a cup of tea.

I also chatted to my nana about her father, who my father had found more information about prior to my return. She has vague memories of the man, who left when she was 6 (or more likely was told to go my her mother), and then returned years later when she had children herself, not recognising her and demanding to know who was living in his house. Not wanting to disturb her mother, she didn’t identify herself, and he left in a taxi, only to die, probably alone, a few years later. It was just one part of the tragedy of the man’s life, decided in large part when he signed up to the Australian Army in 1917, claiming the age of 18 but in fact 16. My father’s research says that he was sent to the Somme, probably as a reinforcement after the battle of the previous year. What he saw there we’ll never know, but he came back damaged, apparently never able to settle and often on the bottle. My father traced his grave, a bare patch of earth with the small numbered plaque, partially covered in sand. Soon we hope to give him back his name, something that I wish the countless other numbered graves could also receive.

My great-grandfather

My great-grandfather

After I returned home from Mandurah, I drove over to a house where I have spent many days and evenings, and where another man damaged by the war spent the last of his years. Since high school I have whiled away hours at the KSP writer’s centre, writing, talking and working, and this being a Thursday I did what must be done: I went to the Thursday Night Group. The group meets to read out their work, critique that of others and drink wine and prior to moving to Sweden I spent most thursdays there, laughing, chatting and discussing the work that brought us all together week after week. Many of the usuals were still there, reading out new stories or poems, making very poor fowl related puns and kindly pulling apart each others writing. As with the house in Mandurah, it was another constant, unchanging, reliable and often quite silly.

Then finally on Friday I went into the city again, this time with a purpose. Before I moved to Sweden I had worked for one state government agency for about 3 years, so there were many memories and friends there, that I wanted to visit. There were a few doubletakes from those who didn’t know I’d be there, and questions about how I was, how Sweden was and what I was doing. Government agencies in my experience rarely change fundamentally, despite cuts, freezes and policy changes. The day to day goes on as always, and those I met seemed mostly as they had been when I left, if slightly busier. After wandering about surprising people for a while I headed out with a few particular cronies and spent the next few hours in another aspect of government service which is unchanging – the afterwork drink.

Gums in Guildford

Gums in Guildford

Next week I will be even busier, catching up with those I haven’t had a chance to see yet and spending some final hours with my family. Soon enough I’ll be back in Sweden, with Australia again another memory. Then in a year we’ll return, and I hope have a few days without rain.

Home

In 2 days I will be in Australia, breathing in the familiar air and absorbing the broad accents of home. I can picture the dry earth, gangly eucalypts and somewhat more casual dress of the people, more accustomed to endless sunshine than months of drizzle. What I can’t imagine is whether it’s going to feel more like a home-coming or a holiday. A homliday?
However, the more I think about it, I realise that what I think of as the most yearned for aspect of the trip is seeing family and friends, who are home in one way or another.

The past week has flown past, in a mix of teachers tactlessly making a joke about Putler (Putin + Hitler) in front of a Ukrainian who supports Putin, watching a live-streamed interview with Hilary Mantel and for the most part preparing for the oncoming trip. As such my mind is casting itself forwards rather than backwards, which makes for a brief update. Short and sweet, is what I hope readers will take out of it.

I feel as though ever minute is being ticked off a list at the end of which is our arrival, tired and relieved, at the Perth airport.

There goes another minute, and another, and another.

Sunset in the hills

Sunset in the hills