Over the past four months or so, since I won the visa lottery (quite literally) and received my green card, I’ve casually used a couple of phrases that I didn’t really think too much about.
One, which surfaced early in my migratory movements, is “I’m moving halfway around the world,” and the other — which came after I set up shop in Augusta — was something to the effect of “I couldn’t be farther from home.”
Although my Dad always liked to joke that I never let the facts get in the way of a good story, for the sake of accuracy and to sate my curiosity, I did some basic research in preparing for this column. I found the Earth’s circumference at the equator is around 24,901 miles, so halfway around the world would be roughly 12,450 miles. Bear with me, I’m not a mathematician.
Some more basic calculations indicate that my hometown of Brisbane, Australia, is 9,812.7 (whoever had to work that 0.7 miles out is a braver man than I) from Augusta, Maine, so in terms of “moving halfway around the world” and “couldn’t be much farther from home,” I’m a couple thousand miles off.
If you’re still with me, congratulations. I promise I have a point here.
Upon relocating to the very northeastern corner of the United States, to a city of around 19,000, I felt pretty confident that the likelihood of running into an Australian was pretty slim, even though anecdotally the number of countrymen visiting the U.S. is definitely on the rise.
On my first trip to the United States in 2008, I bumped into far fewer Australians than I did in subsequent visits. Since then, I can barely throw a boomerang in a big city without hitting Steve from Melbourne or a mother and daughter from Sydney celebrating mum’s 60th birthday. But those chance encounters tended to happen in New York, or Boston, or Santa Barbara. Bigger places, you know?
I certainly didn’t expect it to happen in Maine, much less Augusta. But sure enough, after two or three weeks of playing coy and asking people whether they thought I was “the only Aussie in central Maine,” that cheeky line came back to bite me.
At lunchtime on Dec. 24, I was perched upon a barstool at a local tavern, waiting for my food and idly browsing Twitter, like any millennial is wont to do in social situations these days.
A couple came in and sat a couple of seats down from me, and I could hear some “-ah” sounds instead of the harder “r” pronunciation I’m used to hearing in the U.S.; but my brain went “New England” instead of “England’s convicts.” I didn’t blink an eye until the bartender exclaimed “Wow! Now there are two Aussies in here!” Sure enough, we’d unwittingly sat right beside each other, and spent the next hour playing that age-old get-to-know-you game of “Where are you from? What are you doing here? What football team do you support back home?”
A week or so later, in the midst of that charming polar vortex that made me briefly question my own sanity in moving here, my former editor Down Under asked me to whip up a bit of a color piece about life as an Aussie in a frozen tundra. I did so and, presumably because of a ridiculous photo of me that they uploaded with the story, it got a lot of Web traffic and was shared a lot on social media.
That of course led a second bloke (note: that’s Australian slang for “guy”) to drop me a line, after a friend Down Under had sent him the link with the query, “Isn’t that where you live too?” Suddenly my cute line about being “the only Aussie in central Maine” looked awfully silly.
Between the column, my sporadic blogging about Maine life and simply talking out loud with a funny accent, I’ve learned that there are at least two more of my compatriots living right here in the newspaper circulation area, although I haven’t met either of them yet.
Needless to say, this has come as a pretty big surprise to me, but it also fits with something that is inherently Australian: the burning desire to see the world, or at least places we haven’t yet been.
For some reason, probably because of the isolated nature of our island nation, it’s common for us Aussies to see what the rest of the world has to offer. One of my old roommates has spent time in a list of countries that I don’t have the column inches to list and now lives in London. My sister spent six months living in Canada one ski season a few years ago. Other friends from Down Under have immigrated to San Francisco, England, Sweden, South Korea and Prague, to name but a few places. And even though I’ve taken one giant leap for Crawford-kind, it’s still happening to me now.
At exit 133, just north of Fairfield, there’s a directional sign on the side of the highway that surprised me the first time I saw it.
It reads: Quebec.
Now, I might be from away but I’m not entirely clueless. I know that the concept that being this far northeast means we’re pretty close to Canada.
For all the places I’ve been in the U.S. (at last count, it’s around 30 states I believe), I’ve never ventured across the border to visit the neighbors to the north. But seeing evidence that it’s within driving distance gave me a little thrill. I can just DRIVE to Canada now, if I want to? Amazing. You better believe I’ll be doing just that, when the weather lets up a bit more.
And further than that, it seems that everyone I meet in my day-to-day travels seems to have a link to Australia (apart from me, of course). The younger ones tend to have friends who’ve studied abroad Down Under, or met an Aussie on their travels in Europe or Asia or even right here in the States. Co-workers have kids who’ve gone backpacking around the Great Southern Land, or “studied” for a semester there. Other folks, including many readers, have emailed to tell me they have friends in all sorts of far-flung places around my homeland.
According to the Australian Consulate-General in New York City, by 2009 there were approximately 200,000 of my compatriots living in the U.S., and “a large percentage is concentrated in the Northeast region.”
Between 2008 and 2012, according to the latest available statistics, 1,277 Aussies have won lottery green cards to live and work here. There are countless others here through marriage, work sponsorship and more. So I’ve learned my lesson — never assume you’re the only one in town. You’ll just look like a (Aussie slang ahead) galah.
Adrian Crawford is a Web editor at the Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Maine Walkabout is published the first and third Sundays of each month. More of his adventures in Vacationland can be found at www.crawfinusa.com.