Home for a Moment

How do I feel about visiting places that used to be familiar?
I am sitting at the moment in a hotel room in Perth filling in some hours before playing in a concert with the Australian Chamber Orchestra. It is a very sneaky time difference coming over from the Eastern states. My body’s not really sure whether it’s 16:40 or 19:40. Then the famous “redeye” flight takes me home to Melbourne again tonight. Not jet-lag, more like “jetZAP” - that extra long afternoon is repaid with a very short (sleepless) night.

Seeing as I was born in Perth (though left at 6 months old so the memories are quite fuzzy), I started thinking about the thing of revisiting old home towns.

Last week I was in Sydney for a couple of days - had lived there between 1985 and 1990. Felt pretty awful walking the streets, nothing was quite where I remember it though the recollections of intoxicated evenings bit back with surprising clarity. Very relieved to find a familiar bookshop untouched on one corner (in fact most of the books were even the same), but sad that the Academy Twin was boarded up for lease (“suit a variety of purposes”). Capitan Torres was totally unchanged I reckon, except the car traffic has thickened. And so on.

A few years before that was the dreaded 25 year HSC school reunion. I paced the streets of the country town for an hour inventing tasks - withdrawing cash from the ATM, checking my voicemail for the 17th time, and wondering as I walked past the shop windows whether I looked “fat” or “old”. I was terrified of being amongst a group of people I hadn’t seen for 25 years, who even at the best of times I had no particular rapport with. It ended up being ok, though the food was horrible.

Much much later in the night I detoured through the botanic gardens and past the old house. Back at “tree club” in primary school, us boys always chose the saplings of species that promised to be the biggest growing - we imagined 300 foot Eucalyptus regnans within a few weeks. They had done pretty well, and so had the oak that Grandpa nursed into life from a few stray acorns found in my shorts pocket after one of our epic walks to the Eastern freeway construction site in Kew in the early 1970s.

Hamburg troubles me. Just these last few days I’ve been thinking about whether to spend a few weeks there with my children. But I don’t think I will. I don’t think I can walk around Sternschanze and explain to them “this is where Pappa used to, well, walk around”. The wonderful “in the moment” mode of operating that young children have would make this irrelevant. However, there are certain people somewhere there, who I profoundly miss.

We’ve just had awful news about our employment situation. As a musician I should be immune by now to deceit and professional irresponsibility, but it makes me sad as ever before. I’ll stick to the moments for a few hours more, then think again about where my home might be.
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