After I got all of my spousal visa paperwork submitted for my move to Australia, a slim envelope turned up in my mailbox with another form to fill out. It was called an Australian Values Statement, and required my signature as acknowledgement that I would accept certain Australian values as a newcomer to Oz, one of which was the value of mateship. At the time, I thought it was somewhat amusing, and wondered how it came to rank up there with equality, democracy, and respect for the law. Looking back, I should have seen how it struck a certain resonance with my biggest worry about my move to Australia, which was leaving friends behind. Wondering how long it would take to meet and get to know new people, I was concerned about being lonely, and wondering how I would fit in to this new place.
Hoping to do something ahead of time that might alleviate my fears, I started up an online social group for expats in Adelaide. Within no time the numbers of the group soared, and just over a year later, there are over 250 members. Some members have been in Adelaide only a few days, others for many years, and we even have some local Aussies who’ve been here a lifetime but are keen to meet new people. We have a monthly pub meet, and help each other out with information on adjusting to life in a new country. The best outcome of starting up this group, however, has been the new friends I have made. Some are acquaintances that I only see once a month, some are friends that live nearby, and some are mates that I have even had the luck to work with. We meet up for coffee, go on hikes, and often explore new places in Adelaide together for the first time.
Once a month, we have a ladies lunch with members of the group. It’s an informal, relaxed way to meet or catch up with new friends, have a glass of wine and a meal, and share stories about our new lives down under. We talk about what it’s like to be a woman in Australia, how we relate to our Aussie husband’s family and friends, the challenges with meeting new people and settling in. I had a very emotional response to the first ladies lunch, which included a group of women who came from places as far as the US, Canada, China, Colombia and Singapore. One of our main topics of conversation was that of friendship and the feeling of belonging and identity. Three are married to Aussie blokes, and for us, this poses a particular challenge. Not that Aussie lads are flawed in any way, but more so that fitting into their already existing circle of friends can take time. This could be said for anyone moving to their partner's country and trying to find their way into a life already begun. Being a long way from your own friends and family, you are in a position where you not only have to try and fit in, but also find a new identity for yourself, while at the same time maintain who you are. It’s no easy task, but it’s a rewarding one. Hearing these women sitting around me talk about going through the same things was a very validating experience.
I still keep in touch with my friends back home, but I sometimes think my ‘new Australian’ mates understand me better, in some respects. It’s still hard at times to be so far from my best friends who I’ve known the longest, but I’m so grateful to have the opportunity to have new people in my life. I can still vividly remember how lonely I was when I first arrived in Australia, but so much has changed since day one, much of it due to meeting my fellow expat ladies. I've been really lucky that in the short space of time I've been here in Australia I've met some great quality people, and while I miss catching up with my friends back home, I'm not lonely here. I tell newcomers these days that Australia is a place where the earth is red, you can see the stars, and there’s always a mate around to brighten your day.