Place of birth: Basingstoke*, Hampshire, United Kingdom
Passports: UK & Australia
Overseas history: Canada (Vancouver and Ottawa): 2003-06; Australia (Sydney, New South Wales): 2006 – present.
Occupation: Civil servant in New South Wales (state) government; blogger; wannabe fiction writer and entrepreneur — currently setting up a corporate writing business.
Cyberspace coordinates: In Search of a Life Less Ordinary (2012 finalist in the Best Australian Blogs competition); In Search of a Life Less Ordinary (Facebook page); @RussellVJWard (Twitter handle).
*Basingstoke (aka Amazingstoke) is a small commuter town in the south of England that is occasionally voted one of the less preferred towns in Britain — though not by me!
So tell me, how did a bloke from Basingstoke end up in the lovely harbour city of Sydney?
As much as I like Basingstoke, displacement came easy! I always had a burning desire to experience life in a country different to my own. I wanted to explore new environments, opportunities and activities. I was initially drawn to Canada as my grandfather was Canadian, and I had a long-held desire to explore this great country. I left England in 2003 in pursuit of less stress, more emphasis on the greater outdoors, and for a healthier and fuller way of living life. In Canada I lived by mountains and the snow. I blame my Australian wife for the subsequent move to Australia — she wanted to come back home for a while, and knew I was a soft touch for living by the ocean. These days, when spending every available minute doing something, anything, by the beach, I blame her and curse her and blame her some more…
Is anyone else in your immediate family “displaced”?
My grandfather is my opposite number. He met my grandmother while serving with the Canadian Army in Europe during World War II and married her while based in the UK. He returned to Canada several times but ultimately lived out the rest of his life in England.
And wasn’t your wife also displaced at some point? Otherwise, the pair of you would never have met…
Yes, my wife was working in England for a year, while also spending time with her English family (her mother is English and moved to Australia when she was 12). We met in my home town at the gym of all places — she always used to go to the same classes as me.
It sounds as though you’re living the dream in Sydney, but I can imagine you’ve had your displaced moments. Which one stands out?
It occurred just after we arrived in Sydney with our two dogs. I was walking them at a small park opposite our rental house. The younger pup was playing under a tree with his ball when I noticed something dangling out of the tree immediately above him. As I got closer, I realized said dangly thing was a humungous python wrapped around a branch, with its head swinging perilously close to my dog’s own. Thankfully, he’s an obedient little guy (my dog, not the snake) so he came to me as soon as I called. I remember standing there muttering over and over to myself: “What have I done? Where have I taken us? Did I just see a python hanging from a tree?” It became even more surreal when an elderly couple strolled past the tree while out for their morning walk. “Watch out for the python!” I called out. “Oh, don’t worry about him,” the white haired gent replied. “He’s just a harmless diamond python.” I knew then that I was truly displaced … and a lonnnnnnng way from Kansas, Dorothy.
When have you felt the least displaced?
The moment last November when our son, Elliot, was born. Australia was now his place of birth and it suddenly had a new, much more personal, meaning for me. This wild and rugged, unashamedly and devastatingly beautiful country will always be his home, wherever we are as a family in the future. He is an Australian first and foremost — and I’m incredibly proud of having provided that for him.
I’ve seen some of Elliott’s baby pix on Facebook and I must say, he’s adorable! No wonder you’re a proud papa! Besides your wife and new baby, you may bring one precious item or curiosity you’ve collected from the country (or each of the countries) you’ve lived in to The Displaced Nation. What’s in your suitcase?
From Canada: A bowl of poutine — a bowl full of french fries coated with brown gravy and topped off with curd cheese (which is a strange thing to be carrying in your suitcase and no doubt illegal to carry on your travels, but there you go). I’ve always had a penchant for the odd hot chip or fry. When I landed in Canada and somebody introduced me to this delightful French-Canadian dish, I knew I’d found my manna from heaven. Poutine. The very word itself makes me salivate.
From Australia: Probably a pair of budgie smugglers, which, though I’ve never worn — I can never quite get my head around the concept of wearing — would remind me of Oz as the majority of Australian men over the age of 40 wear them. FYI, the budgie smuggler — otherwise known as the “tighty-whitey” or “banana hammock” — is Australian slang for men’s tight-fitting Speedo-style swimwear. It’s something I shall never be seen wearing unless on a desert island by myself.
Don’t even think about it once you’re inside The Displaced Nation. We like to keep a sense of decorum. Next question: Can you donate any words or expressions from your travels to our displaced argot?
From Canada: It has to be “eh?”. “Canada, eh?” is something of a legendary sentence! “How’s it going, eh?” Used often and everywhere, it’s cute, quaint and so very Canadian. I also adore the way Canadians say “out”. Next time you’re near a Canadian, ask him or her to say it and you’ll see why.
From Australia: I’m going to avoid the “g’day” and “no worries” stereotypes and go with “ah yeah” — which I’m told I say all the time and which my friends tell me sounds very Australian. I think I probably used to say it in Amazingstoke, but years later, with the Aussie twang, it sounds less Jude Law and more Steve Irwin.
Let’s move on (or back) to food. You are invited to prepare a meal for the Displaced Nation, based on your travels. What’s on the menu? No poutine, please, we’re displaced!
Appetizer: From Canada — okay, no poutine but possibly a serving of waffles with Canadian maple syrup. I know, it’s not all that healthy and it’ll fill you up as a starter, but it was either that or the BeaverTails (fried dough pastry that resemble a beaver’s tail).
Main: I’ll revert to my current Australian habitat and chuck a couple of steaks with a few prawns on the barbie. (I know it’s an overused cliche — but one I’ve found to be true of life in the land down under.)
Dessert: I’ll whip up a key lime pie — a taste acquired from my short period of time working in the US. The pie was served on my arrival and, after seven hours of cattle-class airplane food, was quite easily the most delicious thing I’d tasted all day.
Drinks: I could share a few schooners of Australian lager, but instead I’ll opt for a jug of iced tea for the non-alcohol drinkers out there — I used to consume it by the gallon when living in Vancouver.
A theme we’ve been exploring this month, in honor of Valentine’s Day, is cross-cultural love. Thanks to your Aussie wife, you qualify! Tell me, what’s your idea of a romantic evening for two — and has it changed since the time when you were an unattached male who hadn’t yet left Britain?
It’s quite similar to when I lived in Britain: i.e., dinner for two, flowers, chocolates, a card and so on. In other words, fairly traditional. The difference now is the setting. In Sydney we’ll sit by the water at a local restaurant, maybe at the edge of the sand on one of the Northern Beaches. The sound of the ocean can be quite soothing … but is it an aphrodisiac, I hear you ask? Next time, I’ll order the oysters and let you know!
Our other theme of the month is film, in honor of the Oscars. Can you recommend any films that speak to the situation of expats and their displacement?
A film I watched recently that I’d thoroughly recommend and which completely spoke to the expat situation was The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. It’s a British comedy-drama about a group of retirees who travel to India to take up residence in what they believe is a newly restored hotel. The most interesting part for me was the way in which the different characters deal with their displacement, especially to such a polar-opposite country to their own. Some cope well, others not so. And the parallels with everyday expat living are apparent throughout.
That’s actually one of the films we nominated for this year’s Displaced Oscars — results to be announced in our Dispatch on Saturday! We’ll be sure to register your vote before then.
So, readers — yay or nay for letting Russell Ward into The Displaced Nation? Among other contradictions, he’s an Aussie citizen but can’t seem to cope with nonpoisonous snakes and refuses to don a budgie smuggler. And he claims to be loyal to Basing/Amazingstoke, but wants to serve us Canadian (sweet) iced tea. (Note: It’s fine to vote “nay” as long as you couch your reasoning in terms we all — including Russell — find amusing!)
STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post, a review of Jeff Jung’s new book on mid-life career changes involving travel and the expat life.
If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to register for The Displaced Dispatch, a round up of weekly posts from The Displaced Nation, with seasonal recipes, book giveaways and other extras. Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!
Images (top to bottom): Banner from Russell VJ Ward’s blog; with his wife on Sydney Harbour (2010); photo he uses for his blog — taken in Launceston, Tasmania, in 2011; wearing Canadian mittens on Avalon Beach, Sydney, just before the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics — his way of showing his Canadian friends that he was supporting their athletes: “You should have seen the looks I got from the locals; it was a 35 degree Celsius day and I looked like a madman!”