Jul/Aug
2011

Moving in to the Outback

Written by Angie Johnson-Vanner
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austrailiaI saw something unusual the other day. Ten years ago I would have thought I had stumbled into a live-action taping of The Crocodile Hunter, but I’ve acclimated to my home since then.

    I was on a walk, strolling along a suburban street, pushing my children in the pram (stroller). A bare-chested, middle-aged bloke (man), wearing only thongs (flip-flops) and footy (rugby) shorts, was walking across his garden (yard), carrying a pitchfork in one hand and a big ’ol snake (a big ’ol snake) in the other. He walked to the bush (woods) that bordered his property and promptly chucked the snake in, presumably because that was where it had come from. He saw me stopped on the sidewalk staring at him.

    “The bloody thing (darn thing) was trying to get in to the house,” he said to me, as if he needed to explain why he would not allow a snake into his living room but would throw it into the bush instead.

    “Oh…right,” I replied with a weak smile before getting on with the rest of my walk.

    If you didn’t understand a word of what you just read, except for the translations in parentheses and the part about the big ’ol snake, that’s because I’m speaking Australian. Well, English with an Australian “twist.”

Overseas dream

It all started 10 years ago. I was sitting across from my parents in a darkened booth at a favorite haunt, Mr. Pizza. I’d just graduated from college and despite the fact that I’d spent the previous four years, not to mention a lot of money, obtaining a university degree, I had no idea what I was actually going to do with my life.

    “I need a diversion,” I muttered between mouthfuls of pepperoni pizza. “I was thinking of grad school. In Australia.”

    “Australia?!” they replied in unison.

    “But, aren’t the 10 deadliest snakes in the world all found in Australia?” asked Dad
with confusion.

    I frowned. He‘d obviously been watching The Discovery Channel again. I decided it probably wasn’t the best time to go into the crocodiles, sharks and spiders that also inhabit the country.

    “Well,” I shrugged, “I’m also interested in the Peace Corps. I’d most likely end up in Africa, maybe South America.”

    They exchanged a worried look.

    “Tell us more about the grad school idea,” Dad finally sighed.

    Australia, as a location where I could “find myself“ and get serious about life in general, hadn’t exactly come out of left field. I had completed one semester of my junior year in college there. I’d loved every minute I’d spent in Rockhampton, Queensland, a city of 70,000 that sits smack dab on the Tropic of Capricorn and in the heart of Australian cattle country.

    And so my long-suffering parents waved goodbye to me as I set off for another adventure on the other side of the world. That was 10 years ago.

    I did go to grad school, and I finished. However, a year or so of thawing out in the sub-tropical heat, developing an enviable tan, turned into a lot more. I got permanent teaching jobs in Brisbane, and I met my (now) husband. There’s probably a lesson in that: it can be dangerous to travel abroad to “find yourself,” if you intend to stay single.

Now a dual citizen

The decision to make a life for myself in Australia happened long before either of those things though. Sometime in the early years, I’d fallen in love with the place itself: the rugged landscape, the laid-back lifestyle and the familiar and down-to-earth manner of the people.    

    I recently became a dual-citizen, a title that allows me to vote, serve in the armed forces, and become prime minister (probably not!) of my adopted country. I’m still an American, of course, and I always will be. I’m proud of what that means and where I come from. Someday, I’d like our two young sons to know what it is to be American.  

    For now though, I’m happy to be living
in the Great Southern Land. No, I don’t feel like I’m taking my life into my hands every time I step out into the backyard. There is
only the occasional poisonous spider or snake to dodge (just kidding, Mom and Dad…sort of).

    These days I spend my time as a stay-at-home “mum” to our children, a role replete with tears, tantrums and plenty of touching moments. I’d suspect that those things are universal to mothers anywhere, regardless of which side of the Pacific they happen to be on.  

Angie Johnson-Vanner grew up in Rochester, where her parents still live. She graduated from Mayo High School and Bethel University (St. Paul) before moving to Australia.