Australians travel—a lot. They spread themselves across the planet and almost everywhere you go you’ll find them. Some reside there permanently; others are just visiting, and others are there for specific number of years. As world-wide travellers where is home? What is home? And what does home mean?
I call Canberra home; it’s where I live, it’s where I work and play, it’s where my family live, and I’ve lived here longer than anywhere else. But it wasn’t where I was born, or where I grew up. So what does home actually mean?
I always say I was born in Liverpool UK, and in a roundabout way I was. I was born in a heavily industrial working class town (that’s class—as in mass, not clarse as in … well you get my drift) on the banks of the River Mersey that most people would never have heard of unless they’re seriously into rugby league or pigeon racing. At that time it was part of the Greater Liverpool area in the county of Lancashire, but for political reasons its boundaries shifted in the 1970s and it now sits in the more genteel county of Cheshire.
When I was six years old the family upped sticks and moved to the brash and burlesque seaside resort of Blackpool on the north-west coast. If you’ve ever been to Blackpool you’ll know it’s a bit like a tart on steroids; in your face and blunt to the point of shocking, but friendly in a cheeky sort of way. If it were portrayed as a person it would be an aged Dita von Teese after a night on the town. It’s surrounded by the uppity towns of Lytham St Annes to the south and Cleveleys to the north; with Poulton-le-Fylde to the east—a semi-rural enclave where everyone thinks they’re land owners with serfage.
I spent my formative years in Blackpool until moving to the big smoke of Manchester at the age of 20. From Manchester it’s just over an hour’s drive north to Lake Windermere and the Lake District. I fell in love with the Lake District. As well as the birthplace of William Wordsworth (renowned for his daffodils), it was also much loved by Beatrix Potter and her never ending family of rabbits.
The Lake District or The Lakes as it’s colloquially known, is almost entirely a large national park and is the most visited park in the UK, and the largest of the 13 national parks in England and Wales. But the drive to The Lakes was part of what I loved the most. Travelling through the old city of Lancaster with its cobbled streets, old cottages, and stone buildings, and along the farmland where the boundaries are marked not by fences but by traditional dry-stone walls, that, contrary to popular belief, is not just a matter of piling a few stones one on top of the other.
Passing through Kendal—famous for its tea shops and mint cake, which is not a cake but a sugary-sweet block of confectionery—and skirting the low lying hills of the South-Eastern area between Coniston Water and Lake Windermere before dropping down into the town; this entire region has a stark and natural beauty that isn’t found anywhere else.
Summer at The Lakes is a bright and lively world. It turns into Wordsworth’s picturesque poem with green trees and flowers in abundance; picnics by the lake; packed pubs and cafes at lunchtime, and crowded lakeside shops. It’s hard to find a seat to watch the tourist boats. It’s daylight until 10pm and the place is abuzz with tourists, students waiting on tables and drinking in bars, and families out for an evening stroll.
In winter it’s cold and barren and more often than not; raining. In the tea shops the windows steam up, and you can smell the damp as people come in and out with coats and umbrellas leaving dark pools of water. In the northern winter it can be dark as night by 4pm and the streets will be deserted. It’s the stuff of artists and poets with depression—you can find your muse in a place like this.
They say ‘home is where the heart is’ and of all the places I have travelled, and there have been many, my heart was captured by The Lakes.
But I still call Australia home.