Just Say Yes

 


Yes folks, it’s that time again! It’s that time to pull out my dusty old copy of the Gay Agenda, turn to page 246 of sub-section 39b (the Bi Agenda) and wax rhetoric about marriage equality! Yay, that old chestnut.

Australia, while a wonderful country in many ways, is a little bit backward. Besides the rampant racism and xenophobia, the alarming domestic violence rate, and the existence of XXXX beer, Australia is the land of the seemingly homophobic government. Tim Minchin puts it best in his latest online offering, so I won’t go into why it’s ridiculous that marriage equality isn’t legal. But let me just explore our options here.

In 2004 John Howard’s Liberal government introduced the Marriage Amendment Bill, changing the definition of marriage in the Marriage Act 1961 to state, “Marriage means the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life. Certain unions are not marriages. A union solemnised in a foreign country between: (a) a man and another man; or (b) a woman and another woman; must not be recognised as a marriage in Australia” (source). What that means is that the government pretty much sanctioned discrimination based on sexual preference and it was done without consulting the Australian people.

In 2013, however, the High Court found that the Constitutional standpoint of marriage included same sex couples and that basically the federal Parliament has the power to decide to whether same sex couples have the right to marry. Instead, good ol’ Malcolm Turnbull has decided that we should have a plebiscite, even though his government can pass the law if they choose to.

What’s a plebiscite? Well, time to get my nerd on. A plebiscite (ˈplɛbɪsʌɪt,ˈplɛbɪsɪt/) derives from the mid 16th century: from French plébiscite, from Latin plebiscitum, from plebspleb- ‘the common people’ + scitum ‘decree’ (from sciscere ‘vote for’). The sense ‘direct vote of the whole electorate’ dates from the mid 19th century (source, Google dictionary). The word is a noun and its definition is:

  1. the direct vote of all the members of an electorate on an important public question such as a change in the constitution.
  2. a colossal waste of time and $122 million (second definition is the author’s).

Why is it a waste of time? I’ll let australianmarriageequality.org take this one: “… a free vote costs nothing. A plebiscite will become a platform for hatred and division. We elect politicians to make laws, not handball them back to voters. Issues that raise religious and moral concerns are almost always resolved by free votes in parliament, not plebiscites. A plebiscite is not binding so the issue will have to return to Parliament anyway, at which point there should be a free vote. There is more community support for a free vote than for a plebiscite, especially when voters are aware of the cost of a plebiscite.”

Kinda a no-brainer, huh?

Of course, the majority of the LGBTIQ+ community has rallied around the issue, stating that all love is equal, that it’s a human rights issue, and most importantly, that there are other far more pressing issues to put that time and money towards. We are the last developed English-speaking country in the world to legalise it. It’s embarrassing.

But there’s another facet to this issue, a less buoyant, positive, fluffy facet. Yes, love is love. Yes, we should have the right to marry whichever consenting adult we like and be happy. Yes, marriage is not about gender. But on the other side of that truly beautiful coin is the sobering reminder that things can turn shit. Marriages end, dreams die, break ups are horrible and can be really messy, and the unfortunate thing is that in Australia, there’s not a whole lot of legal support for same sex divorce. Our marriages aren’t even recognised for one thing, so it’s stay married forever, or go back to the country you got married in and become domiciled, and then apply for a costly divorce. Break ups are disruptive enough, but the added insult of not actually being able to legally divorce the person one legally married in another country means that closure is deferred, the connection to one’s ex is still active, and salt is rubbed in the open, suppurating wound.

As it stands, my marriage was not taken seriously by some members of the communities I am a part of (much in the same way that my sexuality isn’t taken seriously, but that’s a different post). Therefore, by extension, my divorce is not taken seriously, and that adds to the devastation. My need to cut ties, move on, perhaps even marry someone else is thwarted by this myopic view of a relationship that was very real (if I want to marry a man in the future, I can’t, as I will be committing bigamy in every country in which same sex marriage is recognised). It’s a cruelty on top of an already hurtful situation.

Divorce rituals are important for healing. Many cultures and religions around the world have rituals that are designed to break the bond and ease the suffering of both parties involved. People throw divorce parties. A temple in Japan allows visitors to literally flush their failing relationship down the toilet. I could do all the rituals in all the world, but still, the country I live in doesn’t give me or my ex the option to make it legal. And that’s shit.

I hope that this plebiscite will not go ahead, because there are many, many people that I love (including myself) who will be affected by the inevitably hateful ‘No’ campaign. The anti-marriage equality lobbies that we have in Australia are champing at the bit to unleash their homophobic vitriol upon my community, and this plebiscite will give them leave to do so with relish.

However, I fear that it will go ahead, so I’m throwing everything I have into campaigning for an overwhelming ‘Yes’ vote – even if it isn’t binding, even if the government continue to be a pack of cowards, even if it doesn’t lead to an immediate legalising of same sex marriage, I will still vote yes. I hope all my Australian readers will do so too (mind you, if you’re a regular reader of this blog and you don’t vote yes, my mind boggles as to what you’re doing here).

Once upon a time, I campaigned and protested to have my love recognised. Now I’m campaigning to have the end of it recognised. Equality is equality.

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The Long Journey Home

Stepping off the plane onto the tarmac at Brisbane airport, I’m hit with a wave of sticky humid heat, like a slap in the face with a warm wet towel. My hair immediately responds with vigour, springing out from my head like little snakes, unruly and untameable. I am reminded one should never wear jeans in Brisbane.

Here ends the first leg of my journey home. I have a headache – a persistent sickly thud in my temples that has been present since the car ride to Melbourne airport. I have cried already today several times. My eyes are sore and the salt behind my contacts is making my vision fuzzy. I think back to the day already half gone: my brother Karl’s phone call at 7.30am (“get on a plane, sis”), having a bath to soothe an anxiety attack, phone conversations with my father, my cousin, my mum, the trip to the airport, K and I playing ‘spot the lezzy’ as we wait for me to board the plane. I think I cried as much for leaving her as I did for anything else.

Brisbane smells like salt; a sea breeze. The air is thick but fresh – an odd combination. I trundle my suitcase to the Airtrain while on the phone to K. This is my first experience of a layover itinerary. I had connecting flight jitters and needed the sound of her voice in my ear. I’m already thinking about the future and how lacking it will be without Mum. I feel ashamed, as if I’ve failed her somehow.

I board the flight to Auckland, my eyes puffy and red. The attendants take pity on me, asking if I’m all right. I smile that defeated smile of one who isn’t all right, actually, but has to be. They stow my baggage for me. I’m grateful for someone else taking control of that one little thing. In the plane, gaining altitude, I have the unexpected pleasure of witnessing an achingly beautiful sunset reflecting vaguely off the darkening Tasman Sea. It seems fitting, somehow. A last hurrah.

I knew Mum was going to go since I heard about the heart attack. When my brother told me of the plan for open heart surgery I got that cold prickly sensation in my chest. That knowledge and the acceptance of her impending death made me feel callous and cold, like I had given up on her already. But I know that feeling. I seem to have a gift for predicting doom.

K kept saying to me right up to the moment I left that Mum could pull through. My beautiful wife with her unending optimism when it comes to me; I wanted to jump on board with her. But I knew. My brother knew. Mum knew.

I sit, uncomfortable in the airplane seat, screaming kids everywhere, it seems. Their high-pitched whining is boring into my skull, and their mother sitting behind me talks too loud because she’s wearing headphones. The kid kicks the back of my seat. I want to yell at them to fuck off but I don’t because it must be hard mustering three kids on an international flight. I spill wine on myself because I’m clumsy and that’s what I tend to do without fail on any plane trip, so now I smell like bad South Australian Sauvignon Blanc. I’m starving, but I didn’t book the ticket with food, so I miss out. I begin to feel resentful and shitty, my weariness turning me into a brat. I just want to be there already.

Mum
I arrive in Auckland at silly-o’clock in the morning, met by one of my 50+ first cousins, Cleave. I’m already exhausted but I heave up my heart and am spirited away to the hospital. I am met at the hospital by a gaggle of my mother’s sisters. All these women, all eight of them, are alpha females. I can only imagine what that must have been like to contend with in a family of 13 kids, but at this moment I am glad of their staunchness. They prepare me as best as they can, but the sight of my mother hits me hard in the chest and my breath is knocked out of me. This woman, this strong, intimidating woman is now as fragile as a butterfly, her wings paper thin. She has been waiting for me. She cries as I take her hand. I cry. When will I ever stop crying? I sit with her as the aunties rally. They have stepped up to heights unimaginable. Their support and their love is as thick as syrup and I am enveloped by it. My mother has been safe in their care.

My brother, my poor, wrecked eldest brother walks into Mum’s room after catching a few hours’ sleep. He’s been here since yesterday, a constant presence. He looks like I feel: wasted, drained exhausted. Yeah, that is a word that will live with us for the next 24 hours. It will define us from here on in. Exhausted.

I hold Mum’s hand as my brother fills me in. My mother, weak but present, interjects.

“Missey, where are you?”

“I’m here, Mum.”

“What are you saying?”

“It’s okay, Mum,” my brother says. “I’m filling Kristina in on what you’ve been up to.”

My mother smiles benignly. “Misbehaving,” she whispers.

My mother is a crack up.

I sleep badly for two hours that night, curled up in an armchair in Mum’s room. My mother has restless leg syndrome, so my Auntie Doreen stretches her legs and massages them. Mum talks to her all night. I catch snippets of the conversation but I tune most of it out, my body needing my mind to rest. I know Mum is achieving catharsis in talking to her sister; I don’t need to know what is said. My eyes open at the sound of the nursing shift change and immediately they fly to Mum’s heart monitor. She’s been having VT episodes – Ventricular Tachycardia – which is when her heart rate spikes to upwards of 208 bpm, so I’m making sure she’s sitting nicely at 74 bpm. She’s alert, perky and engaged. My aunt is exhausted. I wake Karl and we go to breakfast and there’s that faint hope again that she maybe might come out of this. We discuss our dad, how many hours we’ve slept since Mum went into hospital, the outrageousness of hospital cafes not automatically serving real butter with their eggs and toast, a little about politics and a lot about my wife. We go back up to Mum’s room and she’s sitting up chatting to more of her sisters who have arrived to see her. The rallying of the family has amazed us. Their presence has kept her heart rate stable and the love in the room has made her cheeks rosy again. Karl and I decide after a few hours that we’re going to go home for a shower and a nap because we’re wrecked, despite the few hours of sleep we’ve had.

Ten minutes after leaving the hospital we get a phone call. Mum’s had another major spike and she had to be shocked twice with the defibrillator to bring her back. Karl and I look at each other and that inkling of hope we had earlier in the day has gone. Neither of us say it, but we both know this is not going to end with Mum walking out of hospital. I ring K and my other brother Hiran. Come now. You need to come now. Hiran is still in Kuala Lumpur, waiting for a flight. K is reticent because she’s a stresser. I’m tired and I just want them here.

I shower and go back to the hospital. Mum is quiet and faint again, her colour faded. More family turn up. My nana comes to see her daughter, another strained filial relationship that is now being resolved. I can only imagine how my 95-year-old grandmother feels about knowing her second born child is going to die. Everyone thought Nana would go before her children. No one expected this.

My mother’s heart rate suddenly spikes to 198 and she gasps. Nana is pulled out of the room as the nursing team rush in and I watch my mother lose consciousness. I yell for my brother. The nurses call all clear amidst the chaos of people running and machines screaming and Mum is shocked back to life.

I am shocked. And terrified. I can’t describe how it feels watching that for the first time. Karl has seen it before so he rushes me out of the room and I sob and keen like a child. Less than half an hour later it happens again, and this time I watch my mother die and be brought back. I see that heart monitor go to 0 and it’s clear my mother is not going to last the two days until Hiran arrives. The nurses are calling her name, coaxing her out of the darkness. “Cathy! Catherine!”

My mother’s eyes open. “What? Stop yelling at me.”

The laughter breaks the tension enough for us all to take a breath.

Mum insists that she must be kept alive until Hiran is here. Karl and I are asked to make a decision. Strangely, it’s not hard to make. Mum is feeling no pain during these spikes, but the damage these electrical bursts are doing to her heart and her body mean that it’s going to happen again and again and more frequently and none of us can do it. Despite Mum’s burning desire to see her middle child, it’s destroying us to see her die over and over again. The cardiologist has a chat to Karl and me, and then he has a chat to Mum.

The decision is made. No more resuscitation. The next spike that happens may well be her last and we just have to let her go. We can do that. We know we can. Mum’s been in pain for so long, emotionally and physically tortured by the circumstance of her life that her death will be a blessed relief. She has struggled and fought and been knocked down so many times, and although she’s gotten back up every time it has taken its toll. Her soul is tired. She misses her father, 50 years gone. She wants to go home.

We get Hiran on Skype; he’s still in KL. They say their goodbyes. My heart is breaking.

I am exhausted. Debilitated. Sapped, shot, wasted. I have walked from the cardiac unit to the car back to the cardiac unit time and again. I know the journey down that corridor like the steps to my own house. Everything is surreal, coloured in stark light like an over-exposed photo. I’m running on autopilot: have a cigarette, wash hands, watch Mum, talk to cousins, make huge decisions, be responsible. I feel like a child lost at the supermarket.

I sit next to Mum as they take the wires and catheters and IV tubes off her. I tell her I love her. She tells me she blesses my marriage, that she wishes she could be there to see me be married legally. She says she can go, confident to leave me in K’s hands. She says to tell K she loves her and she will be looking out for us both from above. She tells Karl to find someone who makes him happy. She wishes she could touch her son Hiran just one more time. We all fall silent, waiting for her to go. We sing Pokarekare Ana, one of Mum’s favourite songs. The aunties sing a waiata, we sing Amazing Grace, for my mum is a Grace and she’s amazing.

What feels like hours pass, but in reality it’s probably only 20 minutes. Mum stirs.

“Oh,” she murmurs. “I seem to be still here.” She breathes. “You must be so bored.”

Again, laughter. We disperse, Mum’s not going yet. Karl and I have a discussion, how are we feeling? Wrecked, tired, drained, sad. Karl says he needs a drink and some food. Cleave and I go on a fish and chips and wine run. We smuggle booze back into the hospital. The nurses don’t care. They’ve been so excellent, the care they’ve provided has been extraordinary.

I eat, sigh because the food is awful. I sit by myself as I need the space. I’m so tired. I announce to my cousin that I’m going to take a nap.

“Kristina.” There’s an urgency to the voice calling my name. “You need to come in now.”

Mum has a look about her, like she’s not quite behind her own eyes. There’s no longer the beep of the monitor to let us know the state of her heart. There’s just that look.

I sit next to her again and take her hand in mine. She’s still holding the rose quartz crystal I gave her when I arrived at the hospital. It gives her comfort. I tell her I love her. I can’t seem to say it enough. She whispers to me, “you have no idea how much I love you, my precious baby girl.”

Karl is standing on the other side of the bed, holding her other hand, stroking her forehead. The aunties, uncles and cousins are crowded around us, but all I can see is my mother. My strong, independent, imposing mother who taught me how to survive in a man’s world; who hit me as a child but loved me fiercely; who accepted every decision I made because she knew it was my life to live; who spent the last decade making up for bad mistakes; who tried her best, and despite the circumstances raised three good kids; who gave up dreams of owning her own home so that we could have music lessons; who did it all on her own.

My mum’s face changes – she’s going. My auntie Doreen says very quietly, “her pulse is threading.” Suddenly, Mum opens her eyes, queerly blue after a lifetime of hazel. She gazes directly at me, long enough to register my sad smile, then her eyes shift to just behind my shoulder. She has a look of wonder on her face and I know that she’s seeing her beloved dad. She closes her eyes again, her mouth slackens (oh shit, this is it). Her breathing becomes laboured and shallow, more time lapses between each gasp. It is disturbing to watch, but this is apparently a peaceful death. Doreen quietly informs us that Mum’s heart is fibrillating and then she stops breathing.

My mother is dead.

Something in me cracks and I sob like I’ve never sobbed before. A list of facts races through my mind: she’ll never see me marry legally she won’t see me on the big screen she’ll never get her house she’ll never meet my babies oh god what do I do when I’m pregnant I took it for granted that she’d be there I need her to be there what am I going to do what am I going to do? I’m panicking so I don’t realise I’ve said the last part aloud. Karl looks at me. “Karl, what are we going to do?” My big brother, who stepped into the role of my father when he was only 8 years old rushes around the bed and wraps me in his arms.

“It’ll be okay,” he murmurs. “We’re going to be okay. We’re all going to be okay.”

We may be. But we’re changed.

A few of the aunties and I wash Mum down and then the wonderful nurses help us get her into the shroud. We form a guard of honour as the orderlies wheel her to the elevator to take her downstairs to the morgue. One of the nurses comes out and stands with us. We sing again and then we escort her down. Mum’s gone. We say goodbye.

The next few days until her funeral are blurred into hours awake and hours asleep. I sleep simply because I can’t stay awake. I’m awake because things need to be done. K arrives just over 24 hours after Mum’s gone. Hiran arrives a few hours after that. Arrangements are made, people are informed. My father is coming over for the funeral. The boys (my brothers) and I prepare for the event. Mum wanted music so we have to rehearse. We play together like it hasn’t been 20 years since the last time. We sleep little, we eat little. I cry a lot. K is a rock, she sheds tears privately with me. She is trying so hard to be strong.

The funeral is beautiful and brutal. I can’t sing the beginning of our second song, but then I do because it’s Mum and all she wanted was to hear us kids play together again. My father breaks down and into applause simultaneously, leading the charge for the Benton kids. I don’t know how we did it, but we did. Karl and I cry. Hiran is as stoic as ever, but I know my brother. His heart is breaking as much as mine. Our fractured little far-flung family.

The next week flies by as quickly as the last. K and I get New Zealand married; a legal, happy celebration with a few of our aunties from both sides of my family in the midst of such sadness. Three days later, my grandmother dies. Mum’s 95-year-old mum. We reel in shock again. It was expected, but not yet. I can’t do another funeral. I know now what I can and can’t take, so K and I decide to fly home. The extended family step up again and my auntie Liz and uncle Pat offer to cover me financially so I can stay. The offer is considered simply because of its generosity, but I have to go home. I can’t escape my every day life – now without Mum – any longer.

I fly home with K with money given to me by another wonderful aunt Carolyn who has now taken a responsibility of sorts for my welfare. Our rent is paid because of that money. I can’t thank her enough. On the plane I finish this piece of writing because I need to. I am no longer what I once was. My mother is gone. I, ever the empath, the sensitive, can’t feel her. I get messages from her. I get information, but I can’t feel her. This scares me because now I feel so very alone, even though I know I’m not. But I’m too young to not have a mum. I know she’s happy. She’s no longer in pain. She has her garden and her house and her dad.

But I don’t have a Mum.

Catherine Mary Grace (Benton until she reverted to her maiden name by deed poll), born on 26 May 1943, died on 22 November 2014 at the age of 71 from Ventricular Tachycardia. She also had cancer in her uterus and liver. She is survived by her three children: Karl 42, musician, Hiran 39, musician, and Kristina 37, actor/composer. She is also survived by her sisters and brothers Anne, Bill, Rita, Mary, Elizabeth, John, Doreen, Marie, Patrick, Robert, Carolyn and Valerie. Cathy’s years of sacrifice enabled her children to follow their dreams and their art. She left behind a legacy of music, responsibility and accountability, which I will uphold to my dying day.

Her last word was my brother’s name. “Hiran.”

Young MumI love you, Mum.

I Do

I got married yesterday. As with most things in my life, the act was non-conventional and probably quite impulsive. I proposed to my girlfriend a couple of months ago whilst visiting my family in New Zealand with the idea in mind that we’d travel to New Zealand to marry for legals while the Australian government continued to waffle and be embarrassingly reticent to allow the same civil rights for all their citizens. It was our government’s failure to recognise the rights of homosexuals that precipitated our decision to participate in a marriage equality rally yesterday. The date marked ten years since the Howard government amended the Marriage Act to state explicitly that legal marriage is ‘the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others’. Ten years. Why the hell are we still having to protest this discriminatory and archaic ruling?

In reality, I believe that marriage equality is essentially a non-issue. It’s a no-brainer. Why are we wasting energy, time and money on something that is a given – human rights, hello! – when there are children dying in Gaza, passenger jets being blown out of the sky, and Yazidis reportedly being killed in Iraq for refusing to convert to Islam? It’s ridiculous, frankly, and insulting.

Yet, this is where we are. Speakers at the rally yesterday told stories of getting married overseas and the sinking feeling of knowing that as soon as they disembarked from the plane on Australian soil they were longer married. A woman, our marriage celebrant, told of dedicating her life to bringing people together in love since her gay son passed away before fulfilling his dream of marrying the man he loved. An intersex person told of their experience of having to lie on official marriage documents in the past about their gender so that they could marry the person they loved, the only options being ‘male’ or ‘female’, not ‘both’.

I am fortunate enough to have a relatively simple gender identity and sexuality, my sexual preferences being quite fluid. It has always been about love for me – it’s the person, not the gender that I have been attracted to. Growing up with a gay dad and being exposed to ‘alternative’ sexualities in the sex industry has afforded me a healthy, well-rounded acceptance of who I am sexually. My coming out was non eventful, I have experienced little discrimination due to my preferences, and my family has always been accepting of my choice of partner, their only concern being my happiness. Even so, I feel marginalised and restricted (not just for being a little bit gay but also for being a woman, but that’s another post at another time).

Our decision yesterday to get ‘illegally married’ – as the celebrant put it – was mainly prompted by circumstance. At the rally, it was announced that any couple who wanted to make a commitment to each other would be given the opportunity to do so. As we were marching towards parliament in Melbourne, my partner turned to me and asked “do you want to marry me?” The decision was easy, given that I had already declared my intention to her in New Zealand, and quite simply, because I love her. I adore this woman, and can’t imagine my life without her. The act of getting married itself, grounded in complete acceptance of and adoration for each other, was a kind of protest. Our own protest against the friends we have both lost due to the circumstances of our relationship, against those who think we have moved too quickly, and against our stupid, myopic government who doesn’t think we have a right to share our lives as a married couple. Who knew a commitment to the person one loves could be so politically charged and powerful?

It has been a stupidly hard, yet wonderfully magical few months. My life during that time has been perfect in its imperfection. Every loss, every gain, every tear shed, every note of laughter has enriched my soul and made me love my life, myself, and my wife. We will wed legally, whether it be in the country of my birth or here if and when the law finally changes. Until then, love well, dear readers. Be as you are, be with whomever you choose, and trust that the Universe will always provide as it has done for me.

Be blessed.

Homeward Bound

It’s just past midnight as my plane approaches Auckland airport. I lean over the man sitting next to me to look out the window at the lights of the city. If it was daylight, I’d see the sparkling water of Weymouth estuary, the iridescence created by distance and sunlight belying the grottiness of the Manukau harbour on ground level. This is home. I haven’t been here in five years, and that last trip was only for two days for my grandmother’s funeral. This is home, where I’ve come to reconnect with myself.

I arrive at my brother’s house feeling strange, not quite believing that I’m actually here. Within a day, I can hear my vowels flattening and my speech returning to the idioms of my youth: I call my brother “bro”, “bra”, “eho” and “ao”. I say “choice” constantly, meaning “excellent”, and the Maori words and place names roll off my tongue with an ease I haven’t experienced in years. I see my mother, who is suddenly old. I see my nephew who is suddenly 16 and tall and skinny, and I feel all of my 37 years with a sense of finality. I remember things: the reason why my hair was so fluffy as a teenager (Auckland is bloody humid); how to take off on a hill with the car in first gear (you have to put on the hand brake, then give it some gas to stop the car from stalling); the taste of New Zealand milk, ice cream, and lamb; kumara chips; driving at 50km/h, which Auckland roads seem to demand; the hills, all the undulating hills.

I think I expected a feeling of relief being here. I’ve always considered that home is where one can stop for a moment and take a breath, where one can relax a disquieted mind. I was quite depressed when I left Australia, and I expected New Zealand to lift me. It does, after a fashion, but I think it’s more to do with spending time with my eldest brother and his girlfriend, and hugging my mum than it does being physically present in this country. It’s not the country of my youth anymore. My family members live in suburbs far removed from Manurewa, where I grew up. There’s no click of recognition as I walk the streets of Ponsonby and Northcote Point, I don’t feel that “phew, I’m home” feeling. I’ve always idealised New Zealand, I know that, as I suppose a lot of expatriates do. I am immensely proud of being born and bred in the little country that could, the nation that legalised same-sex marriage and where the indigenous culture is not only represented but fully integrated into every day life. I’m proud of the culture, the common sensical ingenuity of the average local, and of course, the physical beauty of the land of the long white cloud. There is something deeply spiritual, even magical about certain parts of New Zealand, and I feel a connection to the earth here that I don’t feel in Australia. I ate dirt and sand when I was a toddler, my mother tells me. New Zealand is in me, flowing through my veins.

So, why don’t I feel like I’m home? I put it down to still being a bit depressed, but then I’m having a conversation with my brother about petrol prices (Auckland prices were $2.19 per litre. Atrocious!), and I said “yeah, they’re much cheaper at home.” Melbourne. Not New Zealand. My heart breaks a little – only a little – as I come to the realisation that Melbourne is my home now. It could never replace Auckland, but it has given me opportunities that Auckland never could, and I find myself telling my mother that I can’t make a life here. She frowns. “You mean acting?” she asks. “Yes,” I reply, but that’s only part of the reason. It’s too small here. As my brother says, it’s small-minded. As my cousin says, it’s boring. I don’t tell my mother this, but as much as I love my family, and miss them intensely, that love isn’t enough to keep me here. I begin to get really honest with myself, and I admit that my memories of this country and my childhood here are not entirely pleasant. A lot of trauma happened to me here, a lot of innocence was lost. I finally realise that my aroha (love) for Aotearoa is based on the romanticised version in my head, not on the reality I now experience.

You can never take New Zealand out of this girl. I will always be a die-hard, up-standing and proud Kiwi. As I walk towards the departure gate to get on the plane that will take me back to Melbourne – home – I weep a little. I weep for my mother, who I fear I may not see again any time soon. I weep for my nephew, who will spread his wings and fly away from our little country at the arse end of the world to go find opportunities not available where he was born. And I weep for my country, the place of my birth and I say goodbye to the shining ideology of what it means to be home.