The idea of home

Where is home? What is it? Does it convey a house, a city, a country?

The Oxford defines it as ‘the place where one lives permanently, especially as a member of a family or household’; the Macquarie says it is your ‘fixed residence’. When we’re kids, I think it means ‘where our parents live’. I grew up in Hong Kong. Friends came and went.  We lived in four different houses. It was a transient life but always ‘home.’

The German word ‘heimat’ describes another kind of home. It has no direct English translation but a friend described it as that ‘place of one’s first memories.’ Although Hong Kong will always be home in that sense, I think ‘home’ is inseparable from belonging. I can’t replicate the innocence of my childhood days in Hong Kong. I don’t belong there anymore.

When I came back to live in Australia in June 1986, I marked the immigration entry card as returning ‘permanently’. The time I’d been away was 10 years, one month. I’ll always remember the official at Brisbane airport who stamped my passport. He looked up at me that day, looked at the 16 year old travelling alone who had left her family for the first time. He said ‘Welcome home’.

I had a love-hate relationship with Sydney for years. It’s a bitch of a city to get around. Real estate is prohibitive, public transport is wanting, its fads and fashions shallow. Even after my three children were born here, I felt no strong ties.

A few years ago, I was working in the city and crossed the Anzac Bridge daily on a bus. If I faced west, I could look across Iron Cove and see Glebe’s parks and terrace houses where I spent my student days, Fisher Library at Sydney University, the gothic elegance of its Main Quadrangle, the church spire marking Annandale where we lived as newly-weds, and the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital behind the first house we bought.

I could see the passing of those twenty or so years in that view. Sydney felt like home.

What does home mean to you?

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