On leaving

Moving interstate, it turns out, involves an awful lot of paperwork. In the process of relocating from Newcastle to Melbourne, I’ve filled out a lot of forms and made way too many phone calls. Picking Victoria as my place of residence in drop-down menus is something I’m still pretty terrible at. I also can’t quite manage to enter the area code for NSW before calling my parents. Ringing such a familiar number and getting the “Your Call Cannot Be Connected” lady is a strange feeling. There are other little things that remind me that this isn’t Kansas: I don’t know which newspaper is the one I agree with and I’m not on first name terms with the local ABC weather man (I miss Graham).
One of the biggest changes, and the one which I’m still struggling with the most, is deciding how I’m going to identify myself now. I grew up in regional NSW and, despite moving to Newcastle three years ago, I still answer “Grafton” when people ask me where I’m from. That foundation has always been really important to me. Living and working in a regional area has been such a huge part of my identity. When people ask me when I’m from the answer is, and will always be, the country.
The problem is that I don’t live there now; whether I like it or not I’m Melbourne-based. It’s hard realising that I’m not a regional outlier any more, no matter how much I still feel like one. Since making the decision to move, several friends have expressed disappointment (even sadness) about my choice. If you’ve never had to make that decision – should I stay or should I go? – this might seem like an odd attitude for friends to have, but when you’re from anywhere that isn’t Melbourne, it’s all too easy to emphasise with. There’s a sense that once someone vanishes into the city of literature, they will never emerge again. With every person that migrates, it can feel like another step backwards for interstate and regional communities, and another win for the city of Melbourne.
In reality Melbourne isn’t actually fighting the rest of Australia, greedily stealing its resources and creative types. But I understand why people get sad every time another person moves away. 

The first Facebook invite I got after arriving in Melbourne was for a Seizure meet-up. There was a slightly cruel irony to this – I’ve spent years hitting “not attending” on Melbourne-based Facebook events and when I finally live here, the first invite I get is to a party in Sydney. I really miss Sydney’s literary scene which I’ve been a de-facto part of while living in Newcastle. While it’s exciting to be in Melbourne and have access to this incredible variety of people and events and opportunities, it’s important to remember it isn’t the be all and end all.   

The thing I find really difficult about the question of staying or going is that it implies a binary. It implies that by leaving the geographic area where you’re from, you’re also abandoning the communities that exist there. It implies that you can only make a positive change if you stay. If you leave that’s it. You’re gone.

And that just isn’t true. Since moving, I’ve used the phrase “regional writers” dozens of times, in a bunch of contexts. I’ve applied for several positions and every time I’m asked what I want to achieve I’ve gone on and on about places that aren’t Melbourne. I want to champion regional writers. I want opportunities and resources to be so easy to access that one day that question – should I stay or should I go – will be something that doesn’t matter so much any more. Maybe one day it won’t be Melbourne against the rest of Australia, maybe it can just be all of us together. 
At the end of the day the decision about where you live has to be a personal one. For me, moving to Melbourne offered the chance to explore, to push myself. I’d out-grown my little pond and I wanted to see what it was like to swim in a larger one. But that doesn’t mean I’ll be here forever. 
I’m still a regional writer, even if my mailing address would suggest otherwise.
Leaving does not have to mean giving up.

Further reading

December – home

I spent the first minutes of 2018 on the beach. I’ve never actually spent New Year