Suitcase in hand and a shipping container to follow, I set foot in Townsville for the first time on 19 June 2015. It was dark when I arrived. I didn’t know what my new home looked like until the morning.
A few weeks earlier I’d signed a contract to move across the country to a city I’d never been to, a city where I knew no one. I had no contacts. No connections. No network. Starting from scratch.
The idea was exciting. New beginnings. Hope. Everything was optimism during the early months.
And why wouldn’t it be? You expect the challenges of the early days, the finding-your-feet days. The glory days of rose-coloured glasses when things are easily forgiven because you’re sure you’ll find your niche.
But five years in, it hasn’t been what I expected. With no historical connections here, I feel like I don’t belong. I lack “Place.” For its warm weather, Townsville feels cold.
There’s a culture of making friends when you’re young, or when you’re on international exchange, or other scenarios where there’s a social acceptability of newness that draws people together. But it doesn’t work the same way as an adult moving into an established community. People have their social groups, with their shared histories, and they’re not looking for newcomers. They have no need for newcomers, even if the newcomers have a need for them.
I had no particular awareness or identity of being Victorian until I came here. Pride in a state-based identity marker was foreign to me. I’m not proud to be where I’m from, I just am. Growing up in a regional city I thought I’d find solidarity with another regional city, but the north-south divide is stronger than the regional-metropolitan one. The hostile north.
I’m now self-aware of my status as a southerner. It’s a slur to be a southerner. History and identity align to create a barrier to people who come from south of the Tropic of Capricorn. Last year’s nasty election campaign and the ongoing hostilities around Adani have helped fuel this feeing.
I am the enemy because I come from the south.
It makes me feel less welcome so it becomes its own barrier to my participation. It then slowly becomes a resignation.
And it’s not the only barrier I’ve faced. People at work were suspicious of me because I was a former journalist. I was “intimidating” because of my former work. But because I’m no longer a journalist and I have moved to the “dark side” in public relations, I no longer belong with my former peers of the journalism fold. I’ve become the enemy to them too.
Things I did before, I don’t do now. Aspects of my identity that are no longer exercised. In my desperation to fit in, my fear of rejection gets in the way, and I feel some things are best kept quiet. Clutching at the overlap of outward acceptability and who I am.
I’m not who I was before, no one is, but a full start from scratch, in a place I feel I don’t belong, means I don’t know who I am now. Rather than empowering, I find it lonely.
I know it takes time to find Place, but I feel I’m further away from it than I was at the beginning.
In the five years since moving to Townsville, I’m lost.