We're back in Brisbane, fulfilling commitments. Our baby Nell is getting baptised, we're rushing about to family lunches, dinners and bits in between. The trip is a series of obligations, some welcome and some not. As nice as it is to see people, it's not my idea of a holiday: there's no big pool with a bar in the middle of it, and no snorkling. (This holiday fantasy has emerged since we entered parenthood. Before this, I aspired to culture and nature and mild adventure but truth be told, that now all sounds like a big effort.). Nor is this a home coming; Al and I sit here and dream of home.
For a long time Brisbane was home for both Al and me. Until the big move down south, Al had never lived elsewhere, and I'd spent my teens and most of my twenties here. We've both had some very fine times and some that were less than stellar. Things were pretty grim when I left four and a bit years ago: dumped, no house, no income and temperatures that never dropped below 30 for weeks on end. I was staying in a friend's house, trying to finish my PhD before taking up a job in a town where I knew no one. That final summer was spent desperately tapping away at the lap top on a verandah, drinking copious amounts of water to avoid dehydration, and then getting up every twenty minutes or so to pee. Despite going out with a fizzle, I've often dreamed about coming back here, coming home.
But I'm a stranger in a strange land. Brisbane is really big and really hot and really, really dry. Many people seem to be taking the BrisVegas label a little too seriously (irony, people, irony!). So many of this town's features - cocktails, glam restaurants, late nights and infinite consumption opportunities - are not relevant to my life. The suburbs in which I once lived are almost unrecognisable, bastions of high density living and and Tuscanana architecture. My old rental houses are either gone or schmicked up. There's a lot of concrete and a lot of dust. As an outsider, I see little love for gardens. The water restrictions are cruel, yes, but in some places, the land is divided and divided so that a backyard is an oddity and a front yard is a bit of paving and a sail for the household cars. The plants are the same in every yard, and the houses themselves fit a template. The ramshackle, the quirky, the odd are being torn down or tarted up. There are a few small pieces of my different life - Nono's kebab shop, Northy Street City Farm, The Gun Shop and Mondo Organics - but the pockets of interesting possibilities are shrinking fast.
Until this trip, I saw myself as exiled from my home, tied to Tasmania due to work commitments and the financial inplications of a mainland move. But the exile is as much temporal as it is physical: the Brisbane of my heart exists five years ago. The exile is emotional: my town exists in my love for people who have long since moved on, from the town and sometimes my life. Indeed, it's not a state of exile. I could go back if I wanted to but really, I don't. Brisbane looms large in my past but it's not where I belong. In my personal dictionary, "home" is a haven, a place of safety, a source of succour, the core of identity and the hearth of my family. And it's not here. I'm a small town girl now.