My daughter has a little game she likes to play with me, which is, How Fast Can We Make Mummy Cry?

All she has to do is find ‘I Still Call Australia Home’ on the iPod and the floodgates open.

But it also worked the other way, when I still really called Australia home. Every time the British Airways commercial came on my Aussie TV I’d be sobbing into the sofa.

It’s very confusing.

This morning I was walking around Elizabeth Bay feeling like the ghost of Christmas past, on first name terms with every tree, as well as the lady in the corner shop, who still remembers me. There isn’t a building in that suburb I don’t have some kind of history with.

I haven’t lived there for years now, but it still feels as normal and comfortable to be there as in my own kitchen.

But my kitchen now is actually in a funny little town on the south coast of England – Hastings, where the battle was – and I have the same sense of complete normality/utter weirdness when I go from there up to my other home town, London, where I was born.

Every corner there holds a memory, every paving stone is an old friend and the nice man in the hardware store across from my old flat in Primrose Hill still remembers my name.

It feels completely normal to be there, even though I haven’t had a kitchen in London since 1993, when I moved to Sydney.


The spirit of Sydney always stays the same, says Maggie. Image via


So where is home now? I honestly don’t know – and I’m not alone in that.

Chatting to Sydney taxi drivers over the years I’ve heard so many stories of moving here from somewhere else – I used to collect nations, aiming for a full set – which they still think of as ‘home’.

Some of them left forty years ago and haven’t been back, yet still it has that visceral pull for them. Even though the place they left surely no longer exists as they remember it.

Sydney changes too. Even coming back as regularly as I do, I see that. New buildings have gone up, shops have closed, favourite cafes have changed hands – but the spirit of Sydney stays the same. The warmth, the openness, the truly sensational food and, of course, the Harbour.

As long as I can do that walk round from Mrs Macquarie’s Chair to the corner where – bam! – you suddenly see the Bridge and the Opera House, laid out across the water in the view that never fails to do me in, Sydney will always own a large part of my heart.

But in exactly the same way, whenever I get the train up to London from Hastings, it comes into Charing Cross station over a bridge across the Thames and there it is, the Houses of Parliament, Big Ben… just like every old movie you ever saw that crossed to ‘London, England’. It always makes my spirit soar.

How can I love one of them more?

I have so many friends, forever torn as I am, between these two amazing cities – I had breakfast with two of them, this morning, funnily enough, that’s why I was in Elizabeth Bay – and the conversation always comes round to where we want to live more.

Sydney has the lifestyle, London has the culture. Sydney has the climate, London has the proximity to Europe. Sydney has the food, London has the glamour. Sydney has Bondi, London has Selfridges… You can drive yourself mad trying to work it out rationally.

I’ve got friends so confused about it they’re just about to move back to Sydney after a couple of years back in London and they’re not the first ones I’ve known to do that.

It’s a very unsettling – not to mention expensive – way to live, but once you’ve got two wonderful cities in your blood, it seems a logical thing to do.

Your spirit can’t quite settle until it’s had another shot of the other place.

Inspired by them and all the other couples I know forever torn between two countries, I’ve made it the subject of my new book, with an English woman married to an Aussie bloke, and settled back in London. It’s all a great adventure until the point comes when both their families need them – whose mum is more important?

For me, right now, the decision has simply come down to family in that way. However much I’d like to resume my wonderful Sydney life, I have to be near my mum, now 90 years old and I also want my daughter, ten, to grow up really knowing her aunts, uncles and cousins.

So it’s the UK for me, for the time being – if not mighty London itself, because it feels oddly easier to live in a third, rather random place, than choose between the two cities I love.

And my daughter can make me cry just as quickly by playing Noel Coward singing ‘London Pride’…










*Maggie Alderson is a novelist, journalist, columnist, fashionist, blogerist, Twitterist and motherist. She has published six novels and four books of columns, edited four magazines and four newspaper sections, has columns in two newspapers and on one website, one blog, one daughter and at least 12 pairs of Prada shoes. Follow her on Twitter @MaggieA, on High 50 and, in the [S section of the]
Sun Herald and [M in] the Sunday Age and all good book shops. And most good shoe shops.


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  • Reply October 31, 2012

    Kylie L

    Yep, I get this…. my sister married an Englishman and for the last 10 years they have lived in Richmond, London, which is just gorgeous… but as she often said to me “It’s still not home.” When the marraige hit a rough patch (very rough) she couldn’t deny her homesickness any longer and moved back to Melbourne. The marraige was over anyway, but I’m sure her longing for Melbourne added to her decision to pull up stumps and go.

    It’s a hard one. We lived for 3 years in Edinburgh (where our son was born) and a year in Broome. Melbourne is home, but both those places are home too, enough to make my heart twinge when I think of them, to have me standing on Princes Street or Cable Beach when we visit and taking big breaths and thinking “Home- I’m home”, to be crying as I board the plane home again. That said, I’m aware it’s a lucky pain to have, but it’s still hard having your heart in more than one place. Enjoy your time here, Maggie. xxxx

  • Reply October 31, 2012


    I can understand this so well… I too settled in a third city (Melbourne) which manages to combine so much of what I loved about London and the ‘Aussie lifestyle’ I missed about my own home town. Luckily Melbourne has now become ‘home’ for me and I’ve never been happier.

  • Reply October 31, 2012


    Maggie has a little game she likes to play – its called “how fast can I make Denise cry?” !! I moved to Australia from the UK 22 years ago (for a love who is now my ex-husband), and for various reasons have never been back. When I first arrived, I was so excited about my new relationship, buying and renovating a house, organising a wedding, it didn’t seem important to go back – there wasn’t enough money to do everything, and we’d get to that sooner or later… Well we didn’t, and we had a baby, then divorced pretty soon afterwards. All of a sudden, I felt a burning desire to be with my family, but guess what – no money (I was saddled with our debts and declared bankruptcy), single motherhood, you get the picture. I too would have liked to have my daughter grow up with some connection to her UK family, but the ex took legal action to put a stop to that idea. So I resigned myself to the fact that Australia was now my home – but God was it a struggle to reconcile myself to this!

    Now I’ve taken the bull by the horns and started on a course of re-education so that, in a couple of years, I’ll be able to work between the two countries and spend some time with my ageing father and other relatives and friends. When that time comes, my daughter will be 18 and she can choose to come with me or not.

    I can understand, and envisage, the pang that Maggie talks about – but by the time I experience this it will be my reward for sticking in there! I can hardly wait!

  • Reply October 31, 2012

    jenny Rowland

    I hear you loud and clear!! Having lived in Sydney for the past 15 years I am lucky enough to go back to Hampshire every year for at least a month and leaving long term friends and family and the sense of belonging I still have for my hometown never gets any easier…In fact in a weird kind of way as I get older I miss it more…but I do love Sydney and when I had an extended spell back in the Uk a few years ago I can definitely say I missed Australia when I was there more than I missed England when I was here!
    My dream is to spend half my time here (the summer of course) and half there….but now I have gone and fallen for Cape Town too…..!

  • Reply October 31, 2012


    I’m an Expat English woman happily turned Aussie with kids and five grandkids, married to a Manhattan expat. He has been here for 40 years and in recent years is getting more and more desparate to return to his roots in NYC. The beautiful children, grandchildren and my elderly parent are the only, and huge obstacle to fulfilling this dream. At 60 and 63 its a real dilemma, to have your body in one world and your heart and mind in another, constantly, guiltily, tugging in opposite directions. We could never abandon those we love but continue to live a half life because of it. Regular costly holidays only make the longing worse on return home. It seems there is no real answer.

  • Reply October 31, 2012


    It all gets so complicated. After nearly a decade in the US, our 20 year old son stayed on while we returned to Sydney two years ago. Husband has not given up the job or the residency and commutes between here and CA. Our family is fraught by this and I don’t know the answer. My 18 year old finishing high school has the big decision to make about WHERE to go to uni. It’s hard and sad, unfortunately. I look forward to reading Maggie’s new book!

  • Reply October 31, 2012


    Every May I get a longing for green hills and start listening to way too much Vaughan Williams. I have lived longer in Australia than I did in England and yet the feeling still persists that I don’t quite belong. Maybe this is a common thing for immigrants? The weather is just too hot in summer, I will never get used to it. However whenever I return to England it just isn’t quite right anymore. It’s too bloody cold and wet. Aaaargh!
    It is no particular city that holds me to it but I do have to say if my husband and children are with me then I am home. Ofcourse if we had a villa in Italy or a farmhouse in the south of France or Cornwall in England I might feel even more at home then. Back to dreaming…

  • Reply October 31, 2012


    I’ve just celebrated 45 years in Australia. I love everything about Australia including my two boys, yet reading Maggie’s story had me tearing up.

    To me it just seems like Australia is so damn far from everywhere else. I know people who spend the summer in Australia and then return to Europe for the northern summer, for them there is no longing, they have family here and there, but for most it’s not an economic option so the longing goes on.

    Maybe it’s just part of the human condition when people relocate from their place of birth. It’s reasurring to know that I’m not alone in feeling like this.

  • Reply November 1, 2012

    Helen King

    I think it’s one of the reasons I’ve never been brave enough to move from Melbourne, which I love (even on the bittingly cold days like today). However, maybe we should take the plunge some day (my husband is very keen and frequently brings it up in conversation – he’d like anywhere, particularly somewhere warm) – as Kylie says, it could be a lucky pain to have, not to mention an amazing experience.

  • Reply November 19, 2012

    Mary J

    Tearing up here. I have an Englishman for a husband, who says he has no desire to go back there to live. We visit at least once a year, and since his sweet Mum passed away it has been really hard. My father-in-law is in a care home, my sister in law has cancer, and still my sweet husband proclaims he does not want to go back for an extended and expensive stay. My other personal heart-string tug is for China – as you do after a year there.
    I just wonder if it tugs at women more than men?

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