Early this morning I went for a walk down to the beach. The sun had just risen, but the air was still cool and the sky overcast. It was quiet, save for the distinctive calls of whip birds hiding in trees on the path by the lagoon and the hiss of the not yet visible surf.
Then, rumbling out of the clouds, came a huge passenger plane. It loomed above me, a rare sight in these even rarer times, and I was suddenly overcome with emotion.
For born and bred Sydneysider, there is no experience quite like flying into this city, especially if you have been away from it for a long period of time. I’ve waxed lyrical about my hometown before, but this morning, seeing that plane full of people returning home in the midst of these troubled times brought me undone.
If you’re flying into Sydney from afar (and let’s face it, the vast majority of places are far away from the Great Southern Land), you’ve probably been strapped into a seat for the better part of fourteen hours or more. But chances are, given the way this beautiful blue planet turns, you’ll be arriving here as a new day dawns.
For me, the sense of anticipation that builds as the sky lightens and the coastline appears is incomparable. As each familiar beach and headland becomes clearer I feel a genuine buzz of excitement, regardless of where I am returning from.
From the air, Sydney Harbour opens its arms before you, stretching its fingers far inland, into every nook and cranny of foreshore crammed with houses and flats and parks and trees. In the midst of it all, the Harbour Bridge arches gracefully over the vast expanse of blue, connecting the City to the North Shore.
This is land of the Eora people, and has been for more than fifty thousand years: I reside on Cammeraygal Country. This place has connected the people who live there to it for centuries.
This is home.
So when I saw that plane this morning, I thought of the thousands of Australians who are still trapped overseas, waiting for flights. I thought of those patiently waiting out their days of quarantine, who are “home” but not quite. I felt proud of my home town for receiving more returning travellers than all the other states in this country combined.
And I remembered the safe passage request that can be found on every Australian’s passport, words from which I have always derived great comfort:
The Governor-General of the Commonwealth of Australia,
being the representative in Australia of Her Majesty Queen
Elizabeth the Second, requests all those whom it may concern
to allow the bearer, an Australian Citizen, to pass freely
without let or hindrance and to afford him or her every
assistance and protection of which he or she may stand in need.
Every assistance and protection: these words fills my heart.
I wish I could provide more asssistance and protection for my friends in Melbourne who are enduring one of the world’s strictest lockdowns, with week upon week of curfews and restrictions.
I wish I could offer more comfort and certainty to my friends who have family overseas, who don’t know when they will next see, let alone hug, their loved ones or be permitted to travel to their homelands.
I wish I could make plans — proper plans — with friends who used to call Sydney home, to turn crazy ideas for reunions on tropical islands into realities, to meet the children who have been born since a pandemic rewrote just about every itinerary in existence.
Wishes may be merely words, and words are wind, as they say.
But we will get through this.
We will overcome, and be so much stronger for surviving.
And when it’s over, I’ll meet you in the middle of the air.