‘How revisiting past places gave me memories for the future’

Jul 10, 2019
Graeme recently visited the Fraser Coast, the place where he grew up. Source: Getty Images

“You can’t go home again.” It’s a well worn aphorism that expresses a certain undeniable truth — things change and nothing is ever the same again. Yet paradoxically, there really is nothing quite like going home. Sure, many of us might move out from our childhood home and go on to live our lives in the city of our birth, but for those of us who end up somewhere else the town we grew up in often holds a special place in our heart.

I am one of those people. While I was born in the regional town of Maryborough, Queensland, I have now lived for some 28 years in Canberra, Australia’s capital. Nonetheless, no matter how much I enjoy life in Canberra, I always like to go back home.

Early on I made a road trip of my annual visits to catch up with family and friends. I always found it great fun to set off on the long drive, checking out the sights and sounds and then that delicious anticipation as I got nearer to the old home town. Then there’s the thrill of seeing familiar sights and old stamping grounds.

For me, the best bit was driving into my parents’ home where I grew up and lived for 22 years of my life. The familiar sights, sounds and smells of home would soon greet me as Mum and Dad opened the door and we hugged each other tight. That night, the family dinner table once more became the centre of my universe as we yarned into the night, catching up over dinner and a late night cuppa. Then, snuggling under the covers in my old bedroom, echoes of the past often washed across my mind as I drifted off to sleep.

But time passes, parents age and eventually we find ourselves with those familiar voices no longer at the end of the phone. It’s tough and when my mum and dad passed a few years ago I felt at first that I wouldn’t really want to return ever again. But you know what? I still have the familiar yearning to be back there, to be in the town that carries with it so many of my memories. The place where I chased childhood dreams and grew to adulthood, where I had my first job and first kiss and where I began married life.

So it was that when my brother suggested I go with him on a trip back home I jumped at the chance and before I knew it, there we were at the airport boarding the short flight to Sydney where we’d catch our connecting flight into Hervey Bay. Maryborough is no longer the regional centre — that’s a crown stolen away by the ascendant seaside town that has grown in leaps and bounds from the sleepy little place where people once fished from tinnies and spent the weekend in holiday shacks to a modern city of 52,000 people.

The flight went by pretty quickly as we talked about times past and what the future might bring. Soon enough we were banking over Fraser Island, the largest sand island in the world and famous for freshwater lakes, fishing and the Kingfisher Bay Resort before crossing the short strait to Hervey Bay, itself famous for the seasonal arrival of migrating humpback whales.

Our visit started on a high note as we wheeled out of the airport car park in our rental car, the weather warm and inviting and rather more enticing than the cold snap we’d left behind in Canberra. We drove along the esplanade, a long ribbon of asphalt adjacent to the water’s edge, lined on one side by trees and grassy parks and on the other by an almost endless collection of shops, restaurants, motels and unit towers interspersed with the few older homes still remaining. It was at once deeply familiar and yet tinged with moments of surprise at the changes wrought in recent years.

Enjoying a coffee with a view. Source: Graeme McElligott

That set the tone for the next several days. We visited old haunts, enjoyed coffee from neat waterfront cafes with views out across the sunny waters to the islands beyond, walked on the clean and soft Hervey Bay sand and generally bathed in the feelings of today mixed with memories of the past. We made the short drive to our hometown, Maryborough, and while the anticipation rose once again as we turned the corner into our street, we couldn’t help but feel a twinge of sadness and perhaps loss as we stopped briefly outside our old home. It still looked mostly the same save for the loss of dad’s lovely gardens and the addition of paling fences, but it was all too apparent that times had moved on, a notion brought into sharp focus by the very fact that all we could do was look from the outside. Yet, for a moment — a long moment — I imagined that if I did step through that front door, Mum and Dad would be there and all would be right with the world. But of course I couldn’t do that.

All too soon the days had passed and I found myself back in Canberra with a host of new memories to treasure. In the end, my brief sojourn to Hervey Bay and Maryborough proved to me that while times have changed and life has moved on, old ties aren’t really broken or lost.

Yes, you can go home again!

Have you travelled to the place where you grew up? What memories were there for you?

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