Our homes have become our cocoons. As the coronavirus pandemic sweeps the world, we have cancelled travel plans and retreated – at the behest of our governments – to our homes.
Around the world, as countries progressively closed their borders to “outsiders”, travellers have scrambled for flights “home” while they still could. Some made it before their countries locked down, others organised charter flights, and some – the most unlucky – were stranded, at least for a while, on cruise ships at sea. On arrival at their countries’ shores, whether by air or sea, returnees faced isolation in hotel rooms before being able to return to their own homes.
Home. It’s where the heart is, as the saying goes. Or in the words of songwriters Lerner and Loewe in the classic Wand’rin’ Star from the 1951 Broadway show ( and later movie) Paint Your Wagon, “Home was made for coming from, with dreams of going to..” Unless you truly are a wanderer with no desire for a home base, it rings true.
For most of us, being away from home means sometimes experiencing pangs of longing. Homesickness can be triggered by a smell, a song, a phone call from someone we love. We miss the people, the places, the familiarity, all the things that mean “home” to us.
For me, “home” has always been associated with a view. I grew up in a small city called Whangarei, about two hours drive north of New Zealand’s largest city, Auckland. To drive there from Auckland, you cross the rugged Brynderwyn Range, a ridge of hills running east-west across the base of the peninsula that forms the province of Northland. Although recent improvements to the road across the range have made it less treacherous, it’s still infamous as the scene of New Zealand’s worst road accident, a 1963 bus crash that killed 15 of the 35 people on board.
Whangarei, where I was born and brought up, is about 60km north of the southern end of the Brynderwyns. For almost everyone I know who grew up there – or lives there now – the view from the top of the range is the one that says “I’m home”. There’s always a sense of anticipation, then the intake of breath, as the magnificent view of the Whangarei Harbour, Bream Bay and the craggy outline of Mt Manaia reveals itself. Then you can watch it for several kilometres as you head down the northern side of the range, and pick it up again from sea level as you drive along the coast.
It’s a view that I carry with me in my heart wherever I go. And one I’ll never tire of. It will always signal “home”, no matter where I travel or live.
When I left New Zealand to “see the world” on a two-year working holiday visa to the United Kingdom, I never expected that I’d never live there again. But like so many people, all for different reasons, my home now is in another country. Australia is a land of immigrants, with the 2016 Census showing that nearly half (49 per cent) of Australians had either been born overseas or were second generation Australians.
So as I have been watching the news over the past few weeks, seeing travellers desperate to get “home” – wherever that may be – it seems to me that the homing instinct is strong. It’s where we feel secure, safe, loved. It’s where we want to be when things go wrong.
I’ve always felt torn between my two homes. My children and my grandson are Australians, my work and life is here; but my heart is often in New Zealand, and I go there as often as I can. Usually that’s no more than once a year, unless my work takes me there too (which luckily, over the years, it has often done).
Whangarei has changed a lot over the years since I lived there, but I’ve been lucky to have watched it as an outsider would and appreciate the changes that have made it a great place to visit, increasingly somewhere for visitors to stop rather than pass through. No longer do I answer the question of “Where do you come from?” with “You’ll have never heard of it” – because so many people now have.
For now, international borders are closed indefinitely. New Zealand is in week three of a month-long lockdown, everyone confined to home or to a two-kilometre radius of it for exercising. Next week, my mother will turn 91. She is fit and healthy and well-cared for by my sister and her family, but I am acutely aware that I can no longer jump on a plane to head “home” if I need to. That choice has been removed while we fight the spread of the pandemic. It suddenly makes flying across “the ditch” (as we call the Tasman Sea) seem a journey too far away.
“Home” is a word that means many things to us. When we are out shopping, we go “home” to our place of abode. When we are travelling, “home” is the country we left from. When we are expatriates, it is where we spent our childhoods, especially if we still have family ties there; but we also have our current “home”, the place we now live.
Brisbane has been my home for more years now than I lived in New Zealand, and I love this river city, with its steamy summers and mild winters, its brilliant birdlife and sub-tropical vibe. I miss it when I’m away, and value the many friendships I have here.
Travel feeds on social media are full of inspirational ideas aiming to encourage travellers to start planning where they want to go when travel bans are lifted. I’ve been lucky enough to travel to more than 60 countries, either privately or in the course of my work as a travel writer. I still have a few places high on my wish-list to see, but I know the first place I’ll be going when we are all able to travel internationally again. It’s the place with the view that tells me I’m “home”.