A good choice, Dad.

The story my Dad spins is that he and his three brothers and his good mate Saleem, where sitting around one afternoon in Tripoli contemplating their International futures, over tea. They did not have much, but they had opportunity in their eyes and go in their hearts. As brave young men they decided to leave their nest of Lebanon and their families for simple opportunity. They threw around the 3 A’s: Australia, America or Argentina? Dad, Sam and two of his brothers chose Australia. Another chose America. As I sit in QF36 from Singapore to Melbourne, I am extremely grateful that Albert chose Australia.

After takeoff I am reflecting on our last 18 years as well. I smile within. Lynda and I have been overseas for a long while, and we have returned home twice in that time period. Our boys have grown up Internationally, though both were born in Australia (Sasha in St. Kilda and Jack in Leongatha).  What a ride it has been, a Kaleidoscope of unbelievable experiences, 6 amazing countries, countless friends and journeys.  Our last posting was Indonesia. Just a few days ago we left our nanny Tina in tears, and said bye to our driver Risky, a difficult parting. We left an amazing school. Some American friends can’t grasp that we are leaving to go home with no jobs to give up this International life. Inwardly we smile, because we know we are moving back to something better than they have.

As the Qantas Flight attendant gets me another good little bottle of red I am thinking forward of finally going home, this time we reckon it is for keeps. At times the pull of home was so great we wanted to dissolve and instantly reincarnate ourselves in the culture and hum of Melbourne, the beauty of the Bright and Keiwa Valley, the strength and power of a Cape Patterson wave. For me I so wanted to talk footy with my friends, share the banter of mateship of blue collar football talk, and talk about the Tigers ups, and lately, mainly downs.

I reflected on my mate Kyle’s farewell speech to me. He talked about the word mate and how I had always called him that. Kyle is Canadian. I worked with him in Egypt as well as Indonesia, and we had struck up a great friendship. Being a “mate” I said to him, was more than a friend. I had left friends in China, Abu Dhabi, Singapore and also Taiwan. The nature of International life is that these friends you gather become your adopted family overseas. We had reached a point in our journey where we wanted something real whilst the boys were still young, for them to develop their own mates with their own initiative. At home growing up in Bright my best mates where those I played sport with, footy mainly. Our friendship(s) that endure today were forged with adolescent integrity, honesty, bumps and bruises, goal kicking contests, sports memoirs and glory days. I am glad that I can still see many mates in Bright and we can kick it off now, as if nothing really happened in the last 40 years.

A smooth flight ensues, but when we get over Alice Springs there is turbulence. My remedy is usually drinking more wine. Now with so many flights I still get edgy when there is bumping in the air. I feel safe when the Qantas captain says it will be just a few minutes of this. In my resignation letter I evoked a stanza of A.D Hopes poem “The Death of the Bird”. This poem has lived with me since Year 12 English Literature:

For every bird there is the last migration

Once more the cooling year kindles her heart

With a warm passage to the summer station

Love pricks the course in lights across the charts

I realized then that is why we chose to go home: Love. Love of our family, friends, love towards our ageing parents and love to the life that we know in Australia. I thank our amazing boys who have shown remarkable resilience over the years. One day Sash just came out and said (despite being in the most spectacular International schools overseas), “When can we go home Dad”? Sometimes I felt wretched at times taking them away from Australia, but know that they had experienced so much as well, that other kids would never have and only dream of. I remember vividly an image when I was a young boy of about 7 years. My dad was in tears at home in Bright as he had just found out that his father had died overseas. I remember Mum asking us to go into the room and hug him, and  one by one we did that his five children….I did not want that to happen to me overseas.

I had left Lynda and the kids in sunny Singapore seeing friends. They were going to Universal Studios. It was their little treat for being great kids these last few months. I was more interested in a strong Mario’s coffee in Brunswick Street with Les. I also felt if I could get home a bit earlier I could talk more footy and also make a start on the 106 boxes of stuff in our storage shed.

6 am and we are getting closer. Muffin breakfast, and then coffee. The morning skyline of Melbourne from 3000 meters is a brilliant bright orange with black hue. The gentleman behind me who snored all night on the plane turns to his wife and says, “That was not a bad flight hey Darls?” (I smile to myself; I love the word “Darls”).  The calm Captain brings the big bird down beautifully. I tear up just a bit as the plane touches down remembering my promise to Jack to kiss the ground on arrival.  If I were an Australian cattle dog I would lap and lick the ground with feverish joy. I start talking footy with the fellow behind me as we wait to exit the plane, he loves the Bulldogs and assures me Geelong where once 3-8 several years ago. I assure him that presently Richmond does not have the players a young Cats team had then.  “We don’t have the cattle mate” I say.

I ring mum and dad on arrival, waiting for my bags from Carousel 5. “Hello Habibe!” my overjoyed mum beams through the phone, as she always says. Dad chimes in with his usual measured greeting “Welcome to the Lucky country mate”. He has been saying that for so many years now. I smile within again. I thank him for coming to Australia, all those years ago in the opportunistic, brave 1950’s.

About Haje Halabi

Born in Bright Victoria, went overseas for 2 years and stayed 18. Tiger tragic, father of 2 fine young men, teacher and obsessed with sport and the good it can bring.

Comments

  1. Delightful tale Haje. Home is where the heart is. The choice that your father made, sitting around drinking tea with his mates, was monumental. I’m glad my ancestors made the same choice too.

  2. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Loved it Haje a beautifully told story and hey every honest intelligent and realistic , Richmond supporter is desperately needed in the country !

  3. Brilliant Haje. I could feel the joy and melancholy in your voice.
    Expatriate Richmond supporters are let back in as yours is a profession in short supply these days. Returning Magpies should be sent to Manus Island.

  4. Great story Haje. As one who is on his second overseas jaunt, your reasons for going and returning seem identical to mine. We’re about to begin our third and final year in Singapore, and will then return to Australia, largely so our young boys can better experience family, football, wide blue skies, grassy parks.

    It saddens me that lots of people we work with in Singapore from America, England and Canada, among others, reckon they’ll never live in their home countries again for a host of professional, political and economic reasons. I love living abroad, but also love living in Adelaide. This might make me pretty lucky. Your homecoming flight is remarkably similar to the one we took from London in 2006, and I wrote about here-

    http://mickeytales.com/2014/02/22/homecoming/

    Enjoy being back in Melbourne, and enjoy what it offers you and your family. The Tigers will be happy too!

    Thanks again for your thoughts.

  5. Neil Anderson says

    You must have really known you were back when the fellow passenger referred to his wife as ‘Darls’.
    If you were thinking and writing about your parents in the ‘old’ world, that expression would have landed you back in Oz with a jolt. Nice to see you had a Bulldog supporter as a fellow traveler.

  6. MVPYhxdNLo5ah7ge6tlxNWpIFfIcBmi5du2wMQWtmxw. says

    Thanks everyone for your comments- right now I have a days work at Mirboo nth, it is freezing and a far cry from mad and loving Jakarta:
    Dips- my old man now loves his tea- he is often drinking this in the local pub at home whilst waging a bet
    Mal and Peter- we need every tiger to stand up and try and make sense of the madness
    Mickey- loved your summation- we are indeed blessed to have the opportunity to go overseas and then come back home-
    Neil- darls is one of my favorite expressions- my wife uses it all the time

  7. Phillip Dimitriadis says

    That’s beautiful ‘Habibe’. My mum used to say: “He who has two homelands is blessed and cursed.” Loved the poem.

  8. Dr Rocket says

    Welcome back to good old freezing cold South Gippsland!

    My father made the choice to leave that particular part of Australia and move further north to warmer climes, north of the divide to Stanhope.
    Good choice Dad.

    Great story Haje. Heartfelt.

    Its a balmy 27 degrees in Sai Gon….

    Hope our eventual homecoming is as tranquil.
    And that we are as ready as you.

  9. Haje Halabi says

    Thanks Rocket old mate. She’ll be snowing on Falls creek today I reckon in bucket loads.
    This is the honeymoon period now, home is exciting and new, and there will be lots of times I will miss the buzz of asia and beyond. Right now trying to teach young sasha how to tie his tie….for school. He came in with a blazer today and looked magnificent…love to the fam mate

  10. Zena (younger sister) says

    Welcome home!!! We have all been waiting so very patiently, lovely read.

  11. Scott Ferguson says

    Nice one Haje. Now get down to Punt Rd and sort Richmond out….please!

  12. Melanie Wilson says

    Your post was sent to me by a friend. My family (husband and 2 young sons) also live in Singapore and we also all support Richmond. Perhaps we saw your family at AusKick on a Sat afternoon? Your post has made me cry. Cry because I understand all you say and yet I don’t feel it in my heart. The pull to return home. I’m not there yet (9 years o/s so far, only 2 in Sing). We will return home one day. I just hope that I feel like you when we do. Good luck.

  13. MVPYhxdNLo5ah7ge6tlxNWpIFfIcBmi5du2wMQWtmxw. says

    Hey Melanie

    No we were based in Jakarta the last 2 years but went to Singapaore often as we have friends there. We live there for one year many years ago and loved it. We would live in Singapore again, great place but want to make a go of it at home. I organized the aus kick in another country/ city= Abu dhabi several years ago, its great to have a kick around with like minded families, but now our boys are soccer freak. As I often say to those that live os, or are missing home, love the one you are with.

  14. David Halabi says

    Great read haje, Welcome Home..!!

  15. Welcome back Haje! If you ever need to have a chat about what it’s like to come back home with someone, let us know. We have had some struggles, but love living in a place where there are old growth trees and bush not too far away. And the beach. Simon and Benji are loving footy with the Coolum Breakers. I’m coaching Benji in the U10s and Treasurer. Lucy is managing the U11s with Simon so we get at least one parent at each game. Jobs wise, not so good on the Sunshine Coast. Lucy has been working in a factory processing herbs, (Gourmet Garden, available in AD!) and I’m studying accounting/bookkeeping because that’s where the jobs are here.

    Hope it all goes well mate!

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