Going Home (Wherever That May Be)

Canberra Civic Bus Interchange – a place I know well.

The moment I stepped off the bus back into Canberra was magical. I had Clare Bowditch soaring in my ears and in my head, and a gigantic bag dragging behind me, and I immediately knew that I was in a good place. I felt spectacular, and the ridiculous grin painted across my face left a stream of bewildered public servants in its wake: how could someone be so happy to be in Canberra at 5:30pm on a Thursday?

The notion of home has always intrigued me, especially since 2008, when I left Dubbo for university. It took a good fifteen years to find the right way to articulate it, but the town where I grew up never felt like the right place for me. It was a town that is intensely aspirational, demanding validation in the eyes of the wider world, yet simultaneously unwilling to shake off the cultural blandness that had built up over its lifetime. It was looking to be better in the eyes of everyone, but it didn’t want to step outside its comfort zone. Living there felt claustrophobic, and even though I love my family and hate being away from them, I couldn’t help longing to live somewhere else. I didn’t really care where, as long as it was starkly different from where I had come from.

Bathurst: really bloody nice when
the races aren’t on.

When I finally escaped its clutches, throwing myself into Bathurst’s embrace, I immediately felt a sense of relief. For three years, I had a new home, and I loved it. I found scenes and routines that felt comfortable, away from the prying eyes of all those hometown pseudo-acquaintances. I discovered new communities that didn’t have a parallel in Dubbo, and I found out a myriad of things about myself. I embraced live music at every opportunity, seeing the same local bands over and over again, watching them grow. I went to student theatre and politics at the pub and sat around in the dark, listening to songs I couldn’t name and may never hear again with people I miss dearly.

The trouble with dream states is that you eventually have to wake out of them. My on-campus study drew to a close, my internship was completed and I was shipped back to live with the folks again. I refused to let the book close, regularly stealing back into the town I had come to love for short visits whenever I could, but the journey was over, and as my friends filtered away to the harbour city, or further south to Melbourne, I found I was left with less and less of the dream I remembered. That said, I still feel a thrill when I return to Bathurst, even if it’s just a brief flash of recognition as I fly through on the way to Sydney. It was a place that felt like home, and where I would be happy to lay my head again.

After six months in Dubbo, I was restless again, desperate for another escape. Through an amazing stroke of luck, I managed to get a job in Canberra, and I was off again on another whirlwind adventure. Immediately, it felt completely right. I had found a new home.

The bond I have with Canberra didn’t have as long to build as the one I had with Bathurst, but it was more intense and intoxicating. My options expanded, and it didn’t take long for me to fall in love with her charms and her much-derided quirks. The cold didn’t bother me too much – it kept the dickheads out of the pubs for the better part of the year, and meant packed out gigs didn’t get too hot – and the political nature of the place only intrigued me further. Eventually, I met like-minded folks and occasionally hung around with them, but there were plenty of options for the hours I spent alone as well. It was Bathurst turned up to 11, and I loved it.

Even when it all came crashing down, leaving Canberra was a painful thought. I scrabbled through it, cutting ties with bands and sports and venues in an attempt to break the chain, but I couldn’t help myself heading back for a fix whenever I had the chance and the funds.

Eventually I got so desperate, I even sub-consciously tried to find a romantic excuse to keep coming back, and surprisingly succeeded, but when I realised that my love for him didn’t match the love for the city he lived in, I had to call it off. There were other reasons too, but I felt like such a scumbag for exploiting him that way, even though I didn’t understand that I was doing it at the time. I should have realised I had no room for a companion; I needed some time alone in a place I was comfortable, and in the end it was the fact that I had company that killed my affections. Ironic, isn’t it?

My love for Canberra felt dirtied for a while after that realisation, but it was still there, still beating. After almost two months away, I felt it when I got off that bus on Thursday afternoon. It’s still here, and it’s still the same.

Just past Baker’s Delight, out the front of
Supabarn. I nearly hugged that bit of floor.

I looked up for the first time in weeks. I saw the grey winter sky and it made me smile. I wandered around Civic for a good half hour or so, just rubbing my face in all the sights, sounds and smells. At one point, I even seriously considered lying flat on the floor of the Canberra Centre in a misguided attempt at hugging the ground the city sits on. It was sheer madness, but that’s the kind of nonsense you expect when you’ve been away from home as long as I had.

Everything was as it should be. The painful places still ached, but the glorious places filled me with enough joy to fill all the holes in my heart. It all fell into place and it all felt perfectly right.

On Monday, I head to Sydney, which is a grand city, but one that I have never really felt truly comfortable in. I love it, certainly, and I would love to spend more time with the dozens of friends of mine that live there, but there’s something about it that makes it feel like it’s always judging me, or trying to shake my lack of coolness from its back. She’s always fun, but Sydney is only a short-term lover for me.

On Tuesday night, I’m back in Dubbo. While I’m keen to hug my parents and sister and sleep in my own bed, it still won’t feel right. I’ll go back to the humdrum existence of living there, the thrill of my latest adventure fading into the background of everyday life. It can’t be denied that in recent years, Dubbo has found a new lease on life that is more appealing to my tastes, but the spirit of place is still not quite right. I’ll do my best to be enthused, especially for the sake of Gigs Out West, but I doubt I’ll ever be out on the streets condemning any bad press it gets, or preaching her benefits to those who are yet to experience life within her borders. And you’ll see me dead before you see me in an “I Love Dubbo” t-shirt.

For Canberra, however, I think I will always be a bit of an evangelical. Bathurst gets its fair share of praise as well, but the national capital really does have my heart. Maybe I’ll move back here soon, but I really can’t be sure. I hope I do.

All I know is that as long as I have a travel bag and funds, I’ll never truly leave Canberra alone, for she is home, even when I’m not here.

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