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Open Features: Is The Grass Always Greener On The Other Side Of The Fence?

...Twenty or so years ago a wise old journalist (yes, there are a few) said to me: “If you see a beautiful cat don’t look for fleas”. Anyone thinking of making the life-changing move to another country would do well to look for the metaphorical ‘fleas’ before taking such a giant step into their future or they may find they end up with itches that are difficult to eliminate...

Mary Basham, after a recent visit to Western Australia, warns that a considerable amount of time and effort is involved in making dreams come true.

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Close to 400,000 people are estimated to leave the UK each year to live and work abroad, over 70,000 heading for Australia. Is it the ‘grass is always greener on the other side of the fence’? Is it the tantalising promise of a relaxed lifestyle as portrayed by television relocation programmes? Or is it the ‘sinking ship’ syndrome and the rest of us still have our heads buried in the sand?

Having just come back from visiting family in Western Australia, where on the surface the population appears to be predominantly British ex-pats, I am left pondering why so many have taken the plunge and chosen Perth, one of the most isolated cities on earth for their fresh start? It is true many have achieved a bigger house than they would have managed in the UK, petrol and the weekly shopping both cost less and the beach is never more than a few kilometres away. It is also true that parks and wildlife reserves abound and children can sometimes play in the street and come to no harm. Sounds too good to be that true?

Twenty or so years ago a wise old journalist (yes, there are a few) said to me: “If you see a beautiful cat don’t look for fleas”. Anyone thinking of making the life-changing move to another country would do well to look for the metaphorical ‘fleas’ before taking such a giant step into their future or they may find they end up with itches that are difficult to eliminate.

Acquiring a property in Western Australia is the first lesson in ‘viva la difference’, the process is much tighter than here. Secondly, although the continent in general is crying out for skilled workers, it might turn out that qualifications have to be ratified or examinations retaken under Australian rules. The school system is also a whole new ball game with children going into full-time education much later and many parents end up paying for private education to maintain their children’s established progress. And then there is the subject of roads; vehicles tend to overtake right, left and centre, traffic fines are frequently instant and forget global warming, four wheel drives are the must haves.

No one can deny that the beaches are beautiful. Long sweeps of silver sand edged by an ocean that changes colour by the second – deep blue, turquoise, slate grey, aquamarine – an artist’s palette paradise. But what about the sharks, the rip tides and ‘the deep’?

Days out need cost practically nothing. Barbecues are public and you just turn up in almost any recreational area, select your ‘barbie’ and turn on the gas. Bingo! Bring on the bangers and you are away. The outdoor life cannot be faulted. Kangaroos might be regarded as pests but who could fail to fall for a Joey? Koalas are as cuddly as their toy counterpart. Parrots glamorise the trees and a creature that reminds you of a cross between a porcupine and a hedgehog. No Eden however is complete without its problems and some of the most deadly snakes in the world lurk in the Perth’s perimeters.

If it rains, meat is cheap. A visit to the vineyards of WA is something to remember if the brain doesn’t blot out the entire experience after so many tastings. Fruit and vegetables grow in abundance but get exported too, so be prepared for prices to reflect that. Good old Yorkshire tea is gold dust and the nearest equivalent a poor relation to the real stuff. Vegemite leaves devotees of Marmite with a longing for hot toast spread with the black nectar. The longing can become an obsession!

So never mind, let us say you decide to swap old for new, the culture of soccer for Australian football, cheering for the Aussies when they win the Ashes and you grow to enjoy watching the next generation surf the waves rather than the net (although they do that too). What is the biggest itch of them all? It’s family……or the lack of it. Wherever I went I the conversation inevitably turn to those left behind. Daughters missed the chats with the mums and girl-talk with their sisters and friends; sons mentioned watching football and having a few ‘jars’ with their fathers, brothers and mates; children had left their cousins and school pals behind. A new life can be very lonely without the back-up of loved ones to lend their day-to-day support and continuity.

Before the influx of immigrants from the outside world disturbed the Aborigines wandering Australia’s vast land tracts, ‘dream time’ had a mystical meaning. It is worth remembering that dreams almost always demand considerable time and effort to come true, and there is usually a pay price to pay…………..sometimes a heavy one.

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