When I left home, aged 20, circumstances didn’t allow me to take anything more than a suitcase of my clothes. My bedroom, mine since birth, was like one of those shells which crabs decorate as they carry them around. It was full of my life so far, books, drawings, train sets, sports gear, things my father had brought back from war, old school stuff. But I walked out, shed my shell, without a backward glance. I was eager for adventure, for life outside these four walls, this house, this family, eager to see what the world had in store for me. Adulthood was beckoning, imperiously, and I had to go.
Half a century on, I feel very differently of course. Want to have stern words with that young whippersnapper. It wasn’t the things so much that were important but the whole structure of family life I was leaving behind. And the psychological and emotional effects of twenty years a-growing (title of a book about an Irish childhood I’d been given). Without a backward glance, totally unaware that my much older self would look back with regret on what I was leaving behind – the comfort of familiar voices, shared history, common values, comfortable chairs, surroundings I could navigate with eyes shut. A stability which was going to be absent for quite a while as I tried to find my way bravely in a new world, where nothing was familiar. Oh, it hadn’t all been great, back home, we were a family with problems, and ups and downs like any other, but it was home, and it would take a while to find a new one.
Not unique? Of course not. We all go through this transition from youth to adult, one way and another. We all leave stuff behind. But looking around me now it seems far too many of us leave all behind. Every day there is news of bad behaviour by politicians, business leaders, unionists, sportsmen, of a kind that makes you want to have stern words, say “what would your parents think about this behaviour?”, “what would your grandparents think?”, “where did you leave the values you grew up with?”
But more than that. The country, Australia, I grew up in all those years ago, has itself changed immeasurably. The young Australia seems to have packed its bags, walked out the door of the old Australia (200 years a-growing), grabbing at a brave new world, leaving behind the baggage of fairness, equality, caring, mateship, anti-authoritarianism, mutual respect, honesty. Of course it hadn’t been perfect in the past, the treatment of women, indigenous people, migrants and the environment, were nothing to write home about. But we have lost more than we have gained. Think again, old country, look homeward.
Note – have told much of my story under “Dream” tab above. My family stuff starts about half way (say at “Leaving from Liverpool”).