It Happened To Me: My Nomadic Childhood Gave Me A Teenage Identity Crisis

When I was 15 we moved back to Australia. I was adopted into the 'popular' girls in my year, but things felt odd. They weren't the kind of people I was used to, and I began to feel like a novelty - the token English girl, trotted out at parties to say things in a funny way to make people laugh.
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Publish date:
February 22, 2013
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australia, childhood memories, emigrating

I always knew there was something a little bit strange about my family.

It’s hard to put my finger on it now, more than 15 years since the first time I walked into an Australian classroom, but there were several signs I wasn’t your typical Aussie kid.

For starters on the Friday before Grand Final day (Aussie Rules final played on the last Saturday in September), I had no idea what the big song and dance was about.

At school we were asked to pick a team to support, so I asked my mum; she said to pick the Magpies (aka Collingwood – the most hated of all Australian Rules teams) because they had the same colours as my dad’s football team (black and white for Newcastle United).

Obscure national sports aside, I was unsure I belonged in this strange land where we had to stand outside and sing the national anthem three times a week.

I was 11 months old in November 1991 when my parents and I moved to Melbourne from Colchester after they had visited on their honeymoon in 1988.

We stayed for about five years, my sister was born here in 1993, we got citizenship in 1994 and we lived quite happily in our little family unit. Until April 1996 when my parents had had enough of the economic turbulence of living down under and we made our way back to England.

That was when I knew I was weird.

In my primary school in Chelmsford, where we lived temporarily with my dad’s friend Johnboy, my friends asked me what Australia was like as we huddled like penguins for warmth in the playground. “It was hot” was all I could think to say.

From there we moved again to West Sussex and stayed for the longest period of time we have occupied any house - five years. I hated it.

I find it very difficult to hold a grudge, but I hold one for that little town. The toxicity of the community, the lack of support I received at school after being mercilessly bullied by the same person for five years, and the commune of gossips that occupied the school gates made me long for the sunshine of Australia.

“Things would have been better if we’d stayed”, I would think, desperate to see my old friends again.

Finally we moved again, back to Chelmsford where I became as much of a punk as you can be at 12 for a little over a year before moving once more to Marlow in Buckinghamshire. Things weren't ideal, but in the end I developed a great little group of friends and the relative stability I’d craved for so long.

Then, in April 2006, we came on holiday to Australia and decided as a family to move back. By October we'd moved into the house in which my parents still live, just outside Melbourne in the Dandenong Ranges. By this time I was 15 and chocker-block full of hormones.

Things started promisingly. I was adopted into the group of ‘popular’ girls in my year and I was invited to parties.

But things felt odd. They weren't the kind of people I'd become used to in the UK and I began to feel like a novelty – the token English girl, trotted out at parties to say things in a funny way to make people laugh.

So I moved on, to another group of girls who seemed nice enough, and again, for a while, I was happy.

But they're a strange phenomenon, teenage girls, and as an outsider, I wasn't aware of many of the unspoken social rules we all had to follow.

I made a couple of faux pas – being friends with my girlfriends’ ex-boyfriends gave me a ‘reputation’, so I was quickly exiled to social Siberia.

A drunken kiss at a party was the final nail in my social coffin, and I spent the summer before my final year at school studying furiously and treating my body like a temple.

By the time we’d been back at school for a month, I’d lost about 10-15% of my body weight, had retreated into my own little world and unbeknownst to me, was in the middle of the eating disorder that was to consume me (har har – pun) for almost two years.

I won’t bore you with the details, and I’ve written about this elsewhere, but suffice to say that I was inordinately glad to finish school.

So what have I learned about myself from all this to-ing and fro-ing?

Well I’m not going to claim that my childhood was tough in any way (hello mum and dad by the way, if you’re reading). The thing with moving around so much for me is that I have always been looking for ‘my community’ – and I’ve found it at various stages in my life.

People have almost always been transient in my life, and as soon as I learned that, the better equipped I was to deal with my continually changing circumstances.

I also know that when I ‘settle down’ it will have to be with someone who is ok with not putting down roots anywhere, I want to wander and see things for the rest of my life.

What I’ve really learned about myself is that I have to be careful not to be a novelty either here or in the UK, and accept that moving from place to place will not actually lead to some kind of utopian wonderland.

Right now that’s here, in my flat with my housemate listening to Chet Faker and drinking a massive mug of coffee (curse you – Friday night drinks).