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Five months on, the truth is that I don’t know if I feel like I live in Australia yet

I wonder if this waiting is just how emigration feels

We’re sitting on the poured rubber flooring of the little playground. It has the consistency of overcooked sponge cake underfoot. I found him sitting happily on the ground out here, both legs straight, like a rag doll in a shop window, feet reading “10 to two”.

He’s eating a peanut butter sandwich. I enjoyed the way the terrain sprang me softly forward as I walked over to him. It carries you on its own momentum, a reassurance that if you land flat on your face, it will do you the kindness of absorbing some of the blow. Adult environments don’t tend to offer that. I recall the sensation from this time last year, when my three-year-old niece Astrid took me to a playground in Limerick.

My consent was neither desired nor sought but her enthusiasm for clambering around outdoors on a winter day is the sort of thing you just must admire and accommodate. “Let’s go,” she declared with unnerving intensity and purpose, “to the kraybround”.

And so off we went.


It was freezing then in the slightly pearlescent, greyish February light that I know so well from my own Limerick childhood. For six months every year, the light sidles in at you laterally, like an inside joke. The air is a crunchy liquid that puffs from you with every word, and you worry about the soundness of your own boots as you wend your way around gently melting puddles. When you inevitably walk into one, it gives way like white semolina under your feet, and your worries are proved sounder than your boots as the cold water finds its way between your toes and bites down.

As Astrid navigated the scalding cold metal of the slide and climbing frames, her little gloves prevented her from gripping so she took them off daintily and handed them to me with a serious expression. She looked like the smallest boxer I’ve ever seen deciding that a fight should be bare knuckle.

“Mind my grubs?”

I pocketed them silently and took in my surroundings. If you don’t have children, you don’t frequent playgrounds. Obviously. They’d be a more than slightly odd hangout spot. An empty playground, though, still has something of the allure it had in childhood. If I ever walk past one in the early morning, the swings still beckon to an almost-forgotten part of me and I wonder, though I’d never admit it to anyone, if I should just have a small go of the slide while no one is around.

I’m not sure what I’m waiting for now, but still I seem to wait. Waiting to settle, maybe, or to feel that this, now, is stable in a way that nothing has been for so long

A year later and I’m in another playground. Empty this time, and in Australia.

Astrid is likely fast asleep in her bed in Limerick, 11 hours behind on the clock. This little playground is on the roof of our apartment building in Canberra. It’s Sunday afternoon on a long summer weekend and I’ve wandered out in search of my 38-year-old husband. Here he is, sitting by the climbing frame on the spongey rubber floor next to the communal barbecue area, reading his Kindle in the precise pose of a six-year-old boy worn out from playing.

I sit down beside him, marvelling at his forethought in making himself a sandwich to bring out here, and quietly look out over the vast, scrubby green mountain in the distance. It’s cradled under an azure sky that seems like an entirely different entity from the one settled over Limerick, even in summer. The brightness of the light here transforms the world. The sky rolls on forever. Nature creaks and teems around you even here in the city.

In Ireland, nature largely takes it fairly handy. In Australia, you get the impression it’s doing you a favour by letting you stay.

“So, do you feel like you live in Australia yet?” himself asks, the big brown orbs of his irises scanning the mountain beyond. Above, a hefty white cockatoo deigns to streak, roaring, from an eighth-floor balcony down to the ground below. I’d never noticed before but its wings are yellow underneath. They reveal themselves over our heads like a secret. A spectacular flash of buttery yellow beneath a creamy façade. A soft, perfectly temperate breeze, like a breeze in a badly written novel, adjusts my hair. The playground turf cradles me spongily like a fallen child.

I’ve allowed this silence to stretch too far and now the question is dangling awkwardly between us. Half over the edge of something. The truth is that I don’t know if I feel like I live in Australia yet. It’s been five months. I came here with no expectations. The year up to our departure was dominated by a sense of “nearly”. Almost. Waiting. I lived on it like someone camping on a precipice. Just waiting. Now that I am here, somehow the waiting hasn’t gone away.

I’m not sure what I’m waiting for now, but still I seem to wait. Waiting to settle, maybe, or to feel that this, now, is stable in a way that nothing has been for so long. It’s tucked away, that waiting, like a band of yellow feathers you wouldn’t know is under there. I wonder whether this is just how emigration feels.

Three countries we’ve lived in now, and twice I’ve taken off and never recalled landing. Once you take flight, it can be difficult to plant yourself again. So you look out at a beautiful place, and you feel content, and happy, and yet still you think about the sideways opalescent light in Limerick, and the “kraybround”, and the sight of those yellow feathers won’t leave you.

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