Words by Elizabeth Seychell
As someone who’s lived in Melbourne their entire life, I can’t imagine ‘home’ being called by any other name. Home is synonymous with bustling city streets and afternoon strolls along the Yarra. It’s Saturday morning trips to the Victoria Market for fresh gozleme, the collective excitement that captures the city come AFL season, the all-too-clichéd scent of the world’s finest coffee wafting down graffiti-speckled laneways. Above all, it’s where I’ve grown up, where the people I love are, and the place that’s most familiar, yet always still exciting. Don’t get me wrong, there’s still the desire to explore new places, to see new cultures and experience new things. But it’s difficult to imagine myself ending up somewhere else for too long. For me, Melbourne is unequivocally home.
It does make me wonder, though—what’s Melbourne like from someone who hasn’t been here for their entire life? For my friend Medha, Melbourne hasn’t always been home. She grew up in Hong Kong before she moved to Australia by herself to study her undergrad. Like many people moving from one city to another, her expectations of what her new home would be like were largely shaped through internet research. As she recalls, “the many websites I read before moving here” depicted Melbourne as “more spacious than Hong Kong”. She expected “nicer people, great food and a truly student city”.
Did her expectations align with reality?
“All my expectations of the city turned out to be true. I found the people here to be really nice and lovely. I thought the graffiti was so cool. My favourite thing about living here is a total cliché, but it’s the food. You can get so many different cuisines and they mostly taste great. I don’t even miss Hong Kong as much as I would because they have some great yum cha here!”
For Medha, Melbourne has become one of her homes. But, she says, “homes can mean different things to people. Hong Kong is always going to be home for me because I grew up there…my family still live there and my childhood friends are there. There’s definitely a very precious nostalgia associated with Hong Kong which I miss deeply every now and then. Also, my younger brother who passed away around four years ago was in Hong Kong all his life, so there’s very much an emotional connection to the city that I miss dearly.”
Someone with a similar experience of moving from overseas is my grandmother, Josephine. Moving from Malta to Melbourne as an economic migrant in the 1950s, Josephine came to Australia with her family in the hopes of a better life. For her, Melbourne signified new jobs, new people and new prospects.
“We thought there was a better future in Melbourne. We had a big family, and there was not much work in Malta. To tell you the truth though, I loved Melbourne straight away because it is so different from Malta. I was only 13 years of age but Malta felt so old-fashioned, whereas Melbourne was more modern.”
My grandmother met my grandfather in perhaps the most Melburnian way possible. It was on one particularly sunny Saturday morning that my grandfather caught a glimpse of a breathtaking young woman across the deli section at the Queen Victoria Market. He approached her, asked for her number, and after a few dates, they were engaged to be married. Two children and six granddaughters later, Melbourne is now home to not only my grandmother, but to the entire family she’s raised.
“I wouldn’t go anywhere else ‘til the day I die. My family is here. My grandkids are here so I couldn’t leave. I hope my great-grandkids will be here someday too.”
I wondered if another new Melburnian shared my grandmother’s sentiments towards the city. My boyfriend, Andrew, moved from Perth to Melbourne just over three years ago with his entire family. He recalls it being “a very exciting move”.
“I knew it was going to be a lot busier than Perth, very crowded, freezing in winter and a football fanatical city.”
Andrew was similarly impressed with the liveliness of the city, describing the variety of activities and events as a “welcome change” from WA. Despite the fact that he moved with his parents, sister and pets, it did take a while for Melbourne to replace Perth as home.
“Beyond my immediate family, the rest of my family lives in WA, so it can get very lonely. Having my parents and my sister move with me really helps solidify Melbourne as home, but it wasn’t until I met my girlfriend after a year of living here that it replaced Perth as home completely.”
The old adage “home is where the heart is” is a cliché for a reason. The places we grow up will always be important to us, but with enough time, home is defined less by where you are, and more by who you’re with.