I visited Newcastle last week, the city I was born and grew up in. It’s strange that this place where I spent so many wonderful years and which is so very familiar – the geography and our shared history etched deeply into my brain – is now quite foreign as well. It’s a place I know and loved well but it no longer feels like home. Not even close to home.
It was to spend time with my ageing Mum, as she slowly recedes a little further away from us and into herself, though she’s in total denial about that. It’s a trip that’s fun in some aspects and very hard in others.
The beaches where I spent so much time at in my youth—in various bikinis baking in the sun in the company of friends, a little transistor radio set to 2NX, a can of Coke and a pack of Malboros (oh, how disgusting, I think now)—no longer beckon me to visit during the day. They’re far too hot for me now in summer and the waves I once gleefully jumped over and dived under seem far too cold. I’m only inclined to wander there as the evening starts to cool to try and capture a sunset or, very infrequently, a sunrise. Very early mornings and I don’t get on, which is unfortunate as that’s when the light and beaches are at their glorious best.
I walked past the Ocean Baths, teeming with people enjoying an evening swim even at 8pm. That’s a time when I’m normally at home sipping on a glass of wine happily ensconced on my couch. I spent many an early morning in those ocean baths in the bracing water taking swimming lessons, from a cross male teacher in white shorts with a long wooden stick which he used to push you back out away from the roughened pool walls if you ventured in too close. I’m sure that wouldn’t be allowed nowadays, although I did learn to swim pretty well. I still associate those swimming lessons, and the ones at Lambton Baths, with the zing of freshly squeezed orange juice and the scent of grilled sausages that greeted us for breakfast when we got home.
Every time I ventured out in the car, memories abounded. The library we borrowed books from as kids, the roads we took for family Sunday drives with our 10-cent bag of lollies in little white paper bags, the shopping centre now transformed into a massive beast that had me lost inside, school yards, the pub we hung out at en masse every Friday night as teenagers (when IDs weren’t so important). They’re very fond memories from a pretty blissful childhood and a carefree and happy youth, but they’re not enough to make me want to go back. And the heat at night is something I’m glad I’ve left behind.
It’s not my city anymore. I enjoy my visits and catch ups but now I feel a bit like a visitor who just happens to know her way around the ‘burbs and understands the landscape. While I can admire the beaches, I don’t yearn for the coast. I prefer the hills and the trees, and I’m certain that’s been kinder to the health of my skin.
I was born a Novocastrian but my heart’s elsewhere now. After 35 years in Canberra, that’s now the place that feels right and I can’t imagine living anywhere else.
What about you? Are you living in a place that feels like home?