A New Family

Nearly fifty years ago my husband Rex and I moved with our then three children from Adelaide to Canberra. A very big decision on our part to move away from our close family connections to a much smaller city where we knew very few people, and no-one well.

Rex was a public servant throughout his working life and he was persuaded that the work would be interesting, the opportunities better, the education and lifestyle would be great.

We knew it was a big decision and we did give it serious thought. Looking back, I think you cannot properly understand the repercussions of such a move just by considering the practicalities or talking to others who have moved, but not far. The children were young, nearly eight, six and four years old. “They’ll be fine”, we said, “there are good schools in Canberra and they’re bright children; they’ll make new friends”. All true – but what wasn’t in Canberra was a single member of either of our families. Their grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins were all a twelve-hour road journey away. Our parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins and lifelong friends were that same twelve hours away! A distance we certainly felt when one of us, or they, were ill or celebrating.

Our journey to Canberra was in a new station wagon, more than fully loaded, with three children belted into the back seat, an unhappy, unrestrained cat and everything we thought we would need for the short time before we found a house to rent and our belongings arrived.

Our naivety astounds me!

We had a two-week booking in a motel – one room, with three camp beds set up for the children and absolutely no space for moving about. Not a lot of hope of keeping them quiet outside either. Rex went straight to work the day after we arrived. My job was to find us a house to rent, make all the arrangements, feed us all each day and keep the children happy and entertained without any of their toys or games equipment. No wonder I felt overwhelmed!

It was early January 1971 and many businesses were closed for the Christmas break. I had the wagon to drive, but I didn’t know where to go, or where to find anything – I couldn’t even find a suburban petrol station! As a planned city each suburb or group of smaller suburbs had a central shopping precinct. You had to leave the arterial road and wend your way to the core of a residential area where you found most things, including petrol. Just the opposite to the way it was in Adelaide. A very steep learning curve for innocents like us expecting things to be much the same in every capital city in Australia.

Rex knew he would be working for The Department of Health in Woden. Our Church transfer papers had been forwarded to the Woden Valley Lutheran Church from St Johns, Tea Tree Gully. Rex contacted the local pastor, Reverend John Grosse, who was very helpful. From that moment we felt welcomed and cared for. We had a new Church family who gathered us up and into their midst where a number of families had children of similar ages.

We attended the next Sunday service and were immediately invited to casual picnics and other gatherings where we could ask our many questions of new friends who wanted to help.

They couldn’t solve our housing needs but their support boosted my confidence and I was able to track down specialist agencies who listed rental properties for government employees and military families who are always on the move. They understood our restrictions, found us two houses – one to rent for two years and one to rent for six weeks in the same suburb until ‘our’ house was available. The normal way of doing things if we had only known. During those six weeks we ‘camped’ in a basically furnished house without proper bedding, kitchen necessities or clothing suitable for wet or cold weather. We did have our bathers, beach towels and summer clothing – the things you take on a summer holiday in Adelaide. We bought quite a bit from a Vinnies “Op Shop” and returned it all as a donation later.

In hindsight you recognise the hand of God directing your moves. It is not luck or good fortune but rather by design that you go to the right place at the right time for the help you need.

The Woden Valley Lutheran Congregation became our new family. We loved it immediately and have now worshipped there happily for 50 years. Joy of joys – we found many South Australians when we joined and others come from time to time. Although we have lived most of our lives in Canberra and can truly claim to be Canberrans, we are still South Australians – it is the land of our youth and our identity.

Moving away from what we knew and the memory of how difficult it was for some time has helped us to understand, to a limited degree, what immigrants have to cope with, especially those who no longer have a home to go back to. We, after all could travel back to South Australia when we needed to – and we did. I stopped counting how many times we had crossed the Hay Plains long ago, after a hundred trips over and back!

We were able to attend most important milestone events in our SA families’ lives but we did have to miss some as our children grew older and their education and activities became more important, or our own workloads and schedules couldn’t be juggled. Even in retirement we have to miss out on some events and it hurts. As with the current difficulties we are experiencing with Covid 19 restrictions, and what we would dearly love to do. One of our sons lives in Queensland and we were saddened that he had to miss an important family occasion because gaining permission to travel was virtually impossible and the isolation requirements prohibitive.

One huge benefit of living in a nuclear family is that it did free up time to become involved in our wider Church community and participate in the administration of some of our children’s sporting activities. A side benefit of being involved is that you have an ever widening circle of friends and acquaintances, some of whom you come to know very well and love. Another pseudo family! Once when we attended the baptism of a niece’s child in Victoria, her husband asked “Is there anywhere you go where you don’t know anyone?” In Lutheran circles there may well not be, as we are all members of the same family.

Immanuel is a special and welcoming congregation. When we first arrived even the children there had been born somewhere else. Everyone was new to the area and the congregation itself was less than four years old. Monthly community teas, concerts and other fellowship evenings helped us to get to know each other.

We chose to move and it was difficult in many ways. It also broadened our lives, our outlooks, our attitudes. At first we were lonely for our families and home but we were never alone because we had our wonderful church family at Immanuel, in Canberra, State wide and, even further, into every State of Australia. We were the recipients of instant acceptance, the beneficiaries of true fellowship, receiving God’s love through our fellow disciples. We were, and are, truly blessed by our Church family.

About the Author

Meryl Packer

Meryl is a past member of the LWA Executive and is the NSW state reporter.

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