One of the strangest things about being a person from another country is overcoming that niggly feeling of always feeling a little discontent and the only way you can really overcome it is to just accept that it is always going to be there, nagging you at the back of your brain. This nag stems from longing and people who live away from their birthplace will always be missing someone or something whether it be obvious things like family and loved ones or the not so obvious, like the kind of banter that you could only have at your old local that is impossible to replicate anywhere else. I also have an accent wherever I go now and you don’t even realise it until someone points it out…’You sound soooooo Aussie Tammy!’ say the South Africans. ‘We love your South African accent!, say the Aussies. ‘You sound almost British’, say the one’s who can’t figure it out.
My father decided to immigrate from South Africa to Australia in 2003. I had been living in London at the time of their decision as was still there when Mum, Dad and my 2 younger sisters made the trek Down Under. White South African immigrants are often judged with the assumption that because they were unable to cope with change, they fled. I am not saying that this is completely untrue but it is trivialising something that is very difficult and gut wrenching to do. I come across the odd racist white South African here in Aus yes, but when you listen carefully to their unformulated opinions you can can practically taste the hurt and anger. But besides that, many whites panicked when they thought there was going to be a genocide and like sheep, many followed. Some had become accustomed to a certain standard of living and weren’t prepared to digress which might not have happened but they weren’t willing to take the risk while others were just after an adventure.
My dad, Rocky Croucher, works with his hands. In Aus, that is a sought after commodity and goes on the list titled ‘Highly Skilled’. My entire family right down to my brother-in-law were accepted admission into Australia based off Rocky’s skills. My dad works in industrial refrigeration and air conditioning and he has his own business here in Aus. He is really great at what he does as he is honest, hard working, a man of fine integrity and kindness. His priority in his life is his family and it has been ever since they had their first child (me) when they were just 20 years young. My dad is also dyslexic. He went to a high school in Cape Town called De Grendal which is/was a ‘special needs school’ and was nicknamed ‘Donkey Tech’ by locals and cruel kids alike, but it is fundamentally a trade school where boys learn to be plumbers and electricians and girls learn how to give highlights and perms. Generally kids who attended this school were on Ritalin, the meds for hyperactivity, and weren’t considered to be at the level required to enter main stream schooling. I always wonder how they test these kids hey…
Kids who attended this school were not proud to say that they went there, let’s put it that way. Even I remember making fun of kids who went to Donkey Tech! My assumption, being an ignorant child, was that they were lazy or even skelm because I went to primary school with a few guys who ended up going to that high school and they were always up to mischief in class and fucking about. Only as you get older do you realise that this is what kids do as a defence mechanism when they feel a little out of their depth or self conscious. Schooling in South Africa is highly focused on academic and sport. That’s it. I was a reader. I read books since I could and I have kept a journal since I was 7. I excelled at English with consistent A’s since day one and pretty much scraped by at everything else by the skin of my teeth because I didn’t care about anything besides English and History. I passed high school despite never studying once a day in my life. I never went to University and I have no tertiary education because I was too busy chasing after boys and wasn’t really interested also, we couldn’t really afford it. I am a classic underachiever.
So anyway, mum and dad shall we say, had a little accident when they were 19 and had me when they were 20. My dad was a refrigeration mechanic apprentice and mum worked on the floor at Truworths, a chain clothing store in town. Neither of my parents have Matric, which is what Year 12 is called in South Africa. Needless to say, money was an issue, so my grandparents fashioned their garage into a little studio apartment complete with a little store room in the back that they covered in pink and blue bunny wallpaper (my room). Eventually we moved out into a modest house that my dad worked his fingers to the bone to acquire just before my sister, Nicky, was born about a year or so later and my folks were 21. This scenario alone shows how different it was for white people during apartheid when my parents were able to buy a house on a single salary with no real education to speak of! This would be unheard of now in SA. We were privileged by default on account of our pigmentation. We moved just down the road from where we were at my mum’s parents and my dad’s parents lived on the same street. My cousins lived in the street behind us and also around the corner and everyone went to the same school pretty much. I was taught by teachers that had also taught my mother.
But we weren’t living under palm trees and having ‘slaves’ serve us cocktails by the pool either. I hardly saw my dad growing up because he was always working. Birthday parties, Christmas, school concerts and all those things were often missed because he had a call out. He was on the road working as a mechanic on the big fridges at Pick ‘n Pay (Coles equivalent over here) across Cape Town. He would be called to go to dangerous areas such as Mitchell’s Plain or Lavender Hill in the early hours of the morning because if the meat fridge or the freezers break during an African summer then you have to work quick and urgently before the food has to be thrown away. He would often come back to his car and it had been broken into. Eventually they were encouraged to consider being armed when attending certain stores at certain times of night.
With my dad being a little dyslexic he could never really help me that much with my homework when I was growing up or read me and Nicky stories. But he used to make up for it by just telling us these amazing stories right out of his head, on the spot, about a snail named Flig-a-Wig that lived in our garden and his friends Peter the bird, NigNogs the spider and Cookadooks the beetle. My sister and I loved those stories…we still do and we talk about them often. My dad is also the person who taught me how to ride a bike and to tie my own shoelaces. That is the kind of man Rocky is. Very present and aware of what really matters. There is a class system in South Africa and not only between the different races but within the races themselves. My dad is of Portuguese descent who grew up at the foot of Signal Hill, next to Table Mountain, and he ran the streets with the street kids as a child. He went to Holy Cross Primary School in Cape Town and was brought up very Catholic. In the late seventies the Croucher family moved to the new developing area which is now referred to as the northern suburbs, for a better life. That’s always people’s reason for moving, isn’t it? A better life. They sold their modest property in Green Point (yes I know, I cringe too when I think about this). After a while in their new area, a British family moved in on the same street and my dad quite liked their daughter named Debbie, my mother. Rocky says he was really into Debbie Snowdon, but it also helped that the Snowdon’s had a colour TV that they had brought over with them from England. Let’s just say we are not pure breeds. But most of the best people aren’t pedigree. Pavement specials are cuter and they last longer. I am thrilled that mixed race is the fastest growing race in the world.
Where my dad may lack in intellect by society’s standards, he makes up for in wisdom, faith and a God given talent of knowing how something is put together and how it works just by looking at it. He just couldn’t really tell you how he got there. Sometimes he struggles to take praise for his success because working with his hands and fixing things just comes naturally to him. In my observations, I have noticed that when people put their energy and focus into that which they are good at, only good can really come of it.
By the time my parents had my youngest sister, Shelbe, when they were 30, we lived in a nice house on a nice street in an alright area. We come from Bothasig which was once a ‘whites only’ suburb in the 80s named after apartheid president P.W. Botha but was one of the first suburbs to allow integration when the awful regime was abolished. While I am one of those white South Africans who thinks ‘it wasn’t my generation’s fault. I’m not a racist’ I still acknowledge how I benefited and am still benefiting from apartheid because my education was fantastic. I have never gone hungry and I have never known a life without freedom. Or have I? Makes you wonder.
As many of you know, I went back to Cape Town recently, and one day I went for a drive through my old neighbourhood and parked outside the house I grew up in and took a couple of photos. This is the house where I lived from the age of two right up until I left home at 18…
Rocky, my pops, put the pool in this place himself with nothing but his mates, their spades and a case of beer. He also laid the tiles and carpet throughout, did all the wiring when we did any extensions and he put down the lawn. It used to be painted bright orange with a huge purple garage door because my mother is a bietjie creative. She also loved sponge painting and the entire house was sponge painted inside, even the alarm clock! If you stood still long enough you would have been sponge painted. She even sponged the map of Africa on the back of my father’s braai that he built! Crazy woman, It’s plain to see where I get it from.
When you stand out the front of my old house and you look left you will see this…
Yes, that is Cape Town’s pride and joy, Table Mountain. The only thing that is consistent in that erratic city and it makes people feel grounded because even when it is covered in clouds or the ‘tablecloth’, you know it is there. There is not a single person from Cape Town living in Australia that never looks left when they are walking along the beautiful Australian coastline because no matter how gorgeous it is over here, there will always be that feeling that something is missing.
Then, if you were to turn your head right when you are standing out the front of my old house, you will see this…
My dad’s old school, the Donkey Tech I was telling you about.
Welcome to Caltex refineries. Pumping God knows what into the lungs of the children since God knows when. Sometimes the fumes coming out of this place was positively psychedelic. A small part of me wants to go Erin Brockovich on their ass and a movie will be made about my life starring Beyoncé but hey, it’s not like I live there anymore so who cares?!! Am I right? Ah, if only that were true. You never stop caring. You know what the weirdest thing was about seeing all the changes when you go back to your home town after so many years? The fact that there is no change at all. Sure, the video shop may now be closed down and the shopping centre may have had a few adjustments made to it but on the whole, everything is just as I left it. The real change comes from a new perspective, my new perspective.
My parents moved to Australia not because they were afraid of change. They voted for Mandela and their kids went to an integrated school and we had coloured boyfriends. Where the issue came in was when their daughters who were about as streetwise as a Persian cat began hitch hiking to not so Persian friendly areas to visit said boyfriends but that is another story for another time. My point is, my dad chose Australia because for the first time in his life his skills were seen as just that….skills. Australia promised a fantastic life that has enabled him to both give his family a great life as well as not break his back whilst doing so. Plus, starting a family young meant that their time had come to go on their own adventure. My youngest sister had to leave with them on account of her age, but me and Nicky and her husband Tyrone, joined them later. I came to Australia at first to see where my family were living as I hadn’t seen them in years and in the end, I found that I actually quite like it over here. No, it’s not Cape Town but it is what it is and despite still living a 5 hour flight away from them as they are in Perth and I am in Melbourne, and I only see them a handful of times a year, it is comforting for me to know that our feet are all on the same soil.
One of the things that I have come to notice, is that South Africans still living in South Africa struggle with being able to tell the difference between negativity and critical thinking. One of the things South African expats struggle with is the exact same thing but in a different way. The former are trying to make the most out of a trying situation and are determined to think positively when the news is usually bad whilst the latter are trying to appease their anxiety about leaving so tend to have a more negative mind set. Believe me, South Africans over here are not relishing life in the colonies and lying back on their sun loungers thinking of the Queen. No. Instead, they are living in South African communities in houses that are decorated with all the trinkets and souvenirs the curio shops at the V&A Waterfront have to offer. Their DVD shelves are stocked with Invictus, The Power of One, District 9 and Searching for Sugar Man and if you want coffee then here, have some Frisco. They will set their alarms for 3am to watch the Springboks play and if even the slightest South African accent is heard on the TV then the volume is increased. They are also driving hundreds of miles to the one fucking Spur only to complain that it ‘just isn’t the same’.
No. It isn’t the same. Because we are not home. This is never going to be home because our heart and our spirit still lies in Africa. Only our bodies are enjoying the fruits of a 1st world economy servicing a minuscule population. Bad news from home is almost good news because for a moment you can think, ‘Ok. We made the right decision’. But we aren’t convincing anybody…we are just too proud to a) admit that we miss home and b) to 100% embrace the fantastic country of Australia. Then, on the flip side, we have some of these ‘positive thinking’ white South Africans thinking they are martyrs because they never left but they don’t want to open their eyes and see the bigger picture. But then, I guess it’s easy for me to say because I left.
The presidential elections are coming up in April and for the first time, South African expats are permitted to vote. What wonderful news! We are still South African just living somewhere else, are we not? We miss the place, do we not? We still have family and loved ones there and our current government gives about as much of a shit for the people of South Africa as I do for this toothpick that I am currently nibbling on so why would we not seize the opportunity to put our opinion in a direction where it actually counts instead of just whining and complaining and being facetious via our facebook updates?
South Africa is like the biggest dysfunctional family in the world and we always argue and fight but when we need to come to the party, we are all there and we pull through and we have proven this time and time again. Open your mind as well as your heart. Be grateful and happy that you are able to live in such a great place like Australia with the wisdom and outlook that one can only acquire from being reared in a place like South Africa. Even though home is wherever you are, it will still always be where you feel most like yourself.
One man, One vote! Lest we forget.