In late 2008 (yes, seems like an age ago now) Jase and I had a conversation about London. For a long time, we hadn’t been particularly happy with our lives there. We had moved to London after our year in Sydney because work had taken us there but neither of us were comfortable living in the big city.
I think, to be fair, that initially it was bearable because we were just the two of us. However, we were already beyond the age where going out all the time was attractive so I guess didn’t make the most of the potential nightlife in London. We occasionally went to the theatre, the opera and to restaurants, but because the cost of living was so high and travelling was such a pain, we didn’t do this on a regular basis.
After the children were born, we quickly realised how difficult life in London with young children was, especially where both parents have to work. I couldn’t afford to go part-time and we ended up putting both children into nursery. We both worked long hours and felt exhausted all the time. Not much of a life at all.
I think sometime in November 2008, we realised that enough was enough. We both agreed that London wasn’t for us and that we wanted out. Every day, we felt like the walking dead, trapped in a never ending exhausting routine which held no fun and was always fuelled by money worries. With a massive mortgage and crippling childcare fees, our money wasn’t going very far at all and we were still living like students. Our accountant worked out that after our food and bills were paid we were living on about £75 per month between the four of us!
Not very encouraging for me after working so hard through 6 years at university and a further 10 years in training posts and sitting exams to become a consultant in the NHS. The pay was surprisingly poor (and no hope of private practice – nor urge to do it in my field; that was never my wish). I guess I was naive to think that becoming a consultant would have changed that.
I think that it wasn’t just London (although that played a large part); we did talk about moving to other places in the UK. To be frank, neither of us could think of anywhere else where we wanted to go to live and where the quality of life would have significantly improved for all of us. Nowhere held the special place in our hearts that Australia did. Hard to explain that to those who have not lived there before, but we loved the country, the multiculturalism (especially as our girls were from two cultures and I wanted them to be comfortable with that), the laid back and friendly attitude to life and the potential for a much more outdoors life - all so appealing.
It wasn’t an easy decision; we talked at length about how we would tell our family and friends, how we would deal with the inevitable negative comments and people who wouldn’t support our move. The hardest thing was not being able to talk about it; I couldn’t even blog until it was common news to all, including at work. I think even then, our families felt uncomfortable talking about something that they weren’t looking forward to.
We had tried to emigrate before in 2006 but the time had not been right. When I enquired about jobs at that time, the opportunities did not present themselves and we encountered a number of dead ends. So we shelved the idea, but to be honest it never left our minds.
Two years later, the time was right and when I started to make tentative enquiries with an agency, I was surprised by how quickly they responded with potential jobs. In a matter of a couple of months, I had a job interview lined up in Wollongong, the third largest population centre after Sydney in New South Wales, located just 60km south of Sydney.
I managed to go for a day trip (yes, how mad!) from Hong Kong during our holiday there in Feb 2009. It was really stressful because at the time Jocey was unwell with a fever in Hong Kong and I was worried about her. I landed in Sydney in the early morning after a 9 hour flight, drove to Wollongong, had my interview, drove back to Sydney to have dinner with my aunt and uncle, then drove back to the airport to catch the evening plane back to Hong Kong. I landed in Hong Kong in the early morning absolutely exhausted, but with a job offer on the table.
It then took a further year to get all the paperwork for my visas and professional registration sorted out. At times, the process was difficult and frustrating. We had to sell our house and get rid of a lot of unnecessary possessions in preparation, and with each step it felt like we were cutting another cord tying us to our old lives in the UK. Cathartic in many ways.
Additionally, life at work had become unbearable during 2009 with the endless unreasonable demands from management, wrangling over hours and pay and a strong sense that I was no longer able to make a difference to people, coupled with lack of recognition where I felt I had made a difference. Faced with absolutely no job satisfaction, I became very low and disillusioned, making it easier to walk away from the job and a workplace that I had initially loved.
When we stepped out of the plane and onto Australian soil back in March of this year, I firmly closed the book on that chapter of our lives. It was as if a massive weight had been lifted off our shoulders and we were free at last to live again.