Tag Archives: Home

At reise er at leve

Such wrote Hans Christian Andersen in ‘Mit Livs Æventyr’ in 1855. To travel is to live. I would translate that title, given the HC Andersen context, The Fairy Tail of My Life, though literally it may be better translated as The Adventure of My Life.

It has been 18 months since we returned home to Australia from our big year in Copenhagen. We have created new routines and new ways to make meaning of life and the everyday routines back in Brisbane.

We are back on Danish soil to see family and friends in Europe for seven weeks of holiday. And a little bit of library conference at the public library of the year DOKK1 in Aarhus, Denmark.

Jetlagged and with sore legs and bottom, I don’t necessarily think HC Anderson was right: life happens where you are and you make a choice to live in it, whether or not you are travelling. Travelling gives you the opportunity to experience something new and make memories. But if we live to travel, we invariably spend most of our life yearning to be elsewhere.

Before we go, I wanted to say See Ya Later to my home suburb and my boys. So I made this little film, though you may feel cheated if you expect to see Yayoi Kusama and an upside-down elephant in Mitchelton. I added for effect and to try out my new-found iMovie skills.

Home and November

The Mitchelton Pony Club in November. Photo: Mick. 2015.

The Mitchelton Pony Club in November. Photo: Mick. 2015.

It has been a week now. A whole week since we came home from Copenhagen. Home to our two gorgeous sons, our familiar house, our green garden, our neighbourhood in our suburb in Brisbane.

It was a good time to leave Copenhagen. October was mild and full of sunshine, blue skies, red ivy blazing on old brick buildings, brown chestnuts falling into the lakes and green treetops fading to yellow to brown. You would still see the odd person in shorts and singlet in the sunshine on Dronning Louises Bro. Granted, the sight was much rarer than in spring, when the Danes seemed to strip at the slightest ray of sunshine. But November was, well, rather Northern European November-like: Colder, wetter, grayer, windier, darker. Not quite cold enough for snow, not quite warm enough for comfort: just that miserable in-between. And our tenancy was up. Yes, it was time to leave.

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Home of part of the heart

Ready, set go. Photo: Lone 2014.

Ready, set go. Photo: Lone 2014.

Passports – check, Credit card – check, Tickets – check, Place to stay – check, Dreams – check, Sense of adventure – check

This week, in the muggy Brisbane heat, we’ve put it all together and are very close to ready to leave for cold Copenhagen, Denmark.

At times, exhilarating, at others terrifying for the lack of a set plan. I am not particularly good at not knowing exactly what will happen next.

You see, I have planned for this for a long time. Since at least 2012, when finally I realised that the magic of sunny Queensland, Australia, could wear off. Experiencing the Brisbane floods at the beginning of the year did not at all help. It was bizarre to be in the middle of civilisation and feel so helpless against the rage of nature, the mass of water – water of life and water of destruction. And these last few week we have again seen the fury – hail the size of golf balls rained down on Brisbane inner city, and on level 16 in the office building, we felt how it shivered in fear of the furious winds that spun around like a washing machine on its final spin cycle. Cyclonic conditions in an area below the cyclone line. Nature cares little for bureaucrats’ convenient categorisations, for houses lost their rooves and windows exploded into splinters of tiny glass, spraying terrified occupants. At least no people lost their lives in the 2014 storm of Brisbane. But it is a sign of things to come, of that I am certain.

Though the real reason for the plans is nothing to do with the climate. It is simply: a part of my heart is somewhere else, back in my mother country, where people I love live. Like my sister, two brothers and their partners and children. Like university friends and school friends. Like aunts and uncles and cousins and their families. I want to reconnect with my culture and the Denmark that exists today. No doubt it is a very different Denmark from the country I left in 1991, but then I am a different person to the 24 year old that immigrated to Australia in 1991. I look forward to seeing how the me of today will fit into Denmark of today.

It helps that my most excellent man is excited and supportive of the venture, too. He has been admitted to study at Københavns Universitet and has applied to study Danish Cinema and European Art Film as part of the Bachelor of Fine Arts he is working toward here in Brisbane. He will attend a three weeks Danish course and perhaps finally be able to converse in my language.

Will I miss Brisbane? Yes of course. Not just will I miss the climate and familiarity, I will miss my adorable, lovely, great boys, who will stay in our home while we are off. Thank heavens for skype and social media.

I hope to write about my experience, right here on this blog. A reverse migrant experience, I guess. I hope you will join me on the journey.

Home and the migrant’s curse

An opportunistic floater, pelicans migrate to Lake Eyre in inland Australia, only when it has flooded and food is plentiful. These pelicans at Kiama, New South Wales also follow opportunity. Photo: Mick 2014

An opportunistic floater, pelicans migrate to Lake Eyre in inland Australia,  only when it has flooded and food is plentiful. These pelicans at Kiama, New South Wales also follow opportunity. Photo: Mick 2014

If all the people who do not live in their nation state of origin were a country, it would be the fifth biggest country in the world. Writer Pico Iyer* claims this country – this great floating tribe – would have 220 million citizens. Both my husband and I would be citizens. My sons would not. Not yet, anyway. Iyer’s point is that this floating tribe has a different way of conceptualising home: identity can no longer be defined by where you were born or where you live because it is not so much where you come from, but where you are going.

Over a quarter of people living in Australia belong to that floating tribe – they were born overseas. Most of the rest of Australians are descendants from floaters. Only two and a half per cent of Australians have not been floaters since time immemorial: the first nations people, in Brisbane the Turrball and Jagara peoples.

Yet, we – Australians – claim a particular ‘us-ness’ that is exclusive of other-ness. Our current government defends our borders fiercely from the masses of less fortunate people who are all under suspicion of plotting to float into Australia. Some we want: the economic migrants with skills and money. Others we are told to fear for their otherness: boat people, illegal immigrants, refugees. The dominant discourse criminalises and marginalises asylum seekers for daring to come to our door step on a boat.

At the same time, Australians are some of the most welcoming and accepting people I have come across. Multiculturalism was a policy in the 1980s and though scrapped as an explicit policy, its tenets still run strong in the Australian community. Embracing our floating diversity gives Australia an edge.

Long distance migrants, from the Antarctic up the Australian east coast to Indonesia, sooty shearwater or mutton birds pay the ultimate price for their migration. Photo: Mick 2013

Long distance migrants, from the Antarctic up the Australian east coast to Indonesia, sooty shearwater or mutton birds pay the ultimate price for their migration. Photo: Mick 2013

But being part of the floating tribe is not without its challenges. Many migrants to Australia migrate three times: once to come out to the new land, once to go back home to everything they miss and then once again because the old home was nowhere near as good as the memory of it. I personally know three families who did just that: my husband’s family, a Danish family and a blended Danish-Australian family. Is it just that the grass is always greener on the other side? I think it runs much deeper than that.

In his speech, Pico Iyer says that for the floating tribe, home is a project in progress. Home is less about a piece of soil than a piece of soul.

For me, home is certainly an ongoing project. At some point after my sons were born I proclaimed that I now belong here in Australia where my boys came into the world. However, despite my affinity to the place where my sons belong, something kept tugging at me – a sense of emptiness and being out of place. Too many of the people I care about most are not on the soil I thread, and my soul longs for elsewhere. This is why I must go back to Denmark to be where my extended family is, where my nieces and nephews are growing up fast, where my history is, where my roots are still firmly dug into the sandy soils of the reclaimed heath of mid Jutland. Yet it can only be for a time because my boys are so Australian and belong here. That is the migrant’s curse.

I will keep floating in search for moments when the piece of soul collides with the piece of soil that feels like home.

*I found Pico Iyer’s TEDglobal talk via fellow blogger Kirsten Fogg. Kirsten writes insightfully about belonging.

Under my skin

The church in Gjellerup, Herning Kommune, Denmark. Photo Ch1ptune at da.wikipedia, 2007.

The church in Gjellerup, Herning Kommune, Denmark. Photo Ch1ptune at da.wikipedia, 2007.

‘One can never leave home’ wrote Maya Angelou in Letter to my Daugther in 2008, because ‘one carries the shadows, the dreams, the fears and dragons of home under one’s skin, at the extreme corners of one’s eyes and possibly in the gristle of the earlobe.’

I have been thinking a lot about home lately. As a child I had a stable home. We moved around a little at first, never straying far from that centre of my father’s universe that was Lundfod where he grew up. Once I started school we stayed in the same place until after I left home. My childhood was spent in the little village community of Gjellerup, smack in the centre of Jutland peninsula, as far away from the water as it is possible to get in the little island country of Denmark, where people are of the land and have both feet firmly planted on the ground. Once settled here, my parents got on with their business and we kids got on with being kids and growing up.

It was safe and it was summer, and I played with friends on the street until we were called in to go to bed, even if it still seemed like broad day light. Or it was winter with snow piled high outside and candle light on the well-decorated, freshly felled pine tree, cosy inside, and we played board games and card games with our parents. It was safe and we were never in doubt we were loved. It was a good place from which to go and conquer the world. And so I did, but that is another story.

My childhood home from 1972 to 1982

My childhood home from 1972 to 1982

This was home and I belonged to the place. My community was a very ancient village, the one with the oldest church in Denmark, from 1140. This community was tight knit and deeply religious, but growing fast in the secularised, liberated 1970s. Though we were newcomers, we were all able to find our community, our belonging, here in this rapidly expanding village as it merged to become a suburb of the larger town, Herning. I started at the new school as soon as it opened in january 1973, sang in the choir, joined the scouts, roamed the streets playing cowboys and indians, princesses and dragonslayers and racing our bikes down the gently sloping hills. Friends, whom I still hold dear and count among my very best friends, are friends from my childhood home (you know who you are).

No matter how much I go back and walk the streets I used to play in, look at the homes I used to live in or visit the school I went to, in that little village, I know that there is no going home. It is never the same as the memory of home I carry under my skin. Because I am not the person I was and I will never be that person again, never belong in that place as I did. Similarly, the people I associate with my belonging to that place are no longer there and are no longer the people they were. Experimental philosopher Joshua Knobe questions the notion of an essential self – the person you are can never be the person you were or the person you will be: Even physically, 98% of atoms in your body changes every year.

Nevertheless, when I go to Denmark and look at the landscape, the architecture and the people, hear the language and the songs and feel the place, I know that I belong. I am recognised, I fit in. I belong to this country, this people, this language, this history.

And I don’t. Having lived for 23 years in Australia, away from Denmark, my mother tongue is 23 years old and the society I knew then has moved on, through several crises and cultural shifts. Some of these shifts are significant and others more subtle. For any migrant, this is a significant experience and sometimes cause of sorrow. It reminds us perpetually of the flux of all things: ever-newer water flows and one cannot step in the same river twice (Heraculitus).

It may be true you never leave home, as Angelou asserts, but I have found the home under my skin has morphed and changed, as I run through its manifestations inside my head and adjust the shadows, dreams, fears and dragons to fit into the narrative of my life. One may never leave home, but home is never what it was.

And this is exactly why I need to go home to Denmark: so I can adjust the home under my skin, at the corner of my eye and in the gristle of my earlobe. Thanks Angelou, and rest in peace.

Undivided loyalty?

The iconic symbol of connection between Denmark and Australia - Sydney Opera House by Jørn Utzon. Mick Keast. October 2013

The iconic symbol of connection between Denmark and Australia – Sydney Opera House by Jørn Utzon. Mick Keast. October 2013

Diogenes (404-323 BC) was a Cynic and even though he lived in a dog house, he called himself ‘citizen of the world’. In today’s increased mobility and connectivity, we can all be citizens of the world, virtually and actually. Except reality is that we are citizens of one country, maybe two, but always only one if you are Danish.

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The best Australia has to offer

Binna Burra, Lamington National Park, 2014 by Mick

Binna Burra, Lamington National Park, 2014 by Mick

This weekend I was reminded of what I love most about Australia – its vast natural beauty. With a couple of friends, Mick and I went to Binna Burra, a heritage listed resort in Lamington National Park on the Gold Coast Hinterland.

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