When we started to consider me leaving the public service and thus Canberra, it was sort of a given that we would look at a wine region so that Simon could resume his career in the industry. We had always talked about spending some time in a wine region after our posting and used to joke about me running wine tours utilising my fabulous Chinese and Vietnamese language skills. Alas my Vietnamese never really stuck and my Chinese is a little rusty, although fortunately still there.
South Australia was very quickly on the top of list as it seemed that things like property were going to be more affordable, which was certainly a consideration given I was planning to take some time of before starting in a new career. We were fairly influenced by social media, first from seeing friend’s posts about things like the Farmer’s Market and then as we started to follow various people and organisations on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to get a feel for the place. I was so relieved when our first visit to the Farmer’s Market exceeded our expectations.
Another consideration was definitely fresh air. After 3.5 years in Hanoi, we needed to escape not only the pollution, but also the general climatic conditions that come from being at sea level. Humidity, mists, the damp cold of winter and the even damper summers. As my former boss told me before we went to Hanoi, “No one goes to Hanoi for the weather”. Although he had been posted there and been back many times having met his wife there, I really thought he was exaggerating. I’d had pretty warm weather during the few February days I had been there in 2003 and I figured I’d survived the extremes of Beijing (minus 15C in winter and 40+ in summer).
I had to concede early on he was right. We arrived during a particularly cold period and I remember going to visit houses the day after we arrived and being freezing. My classroom for that first month was awful and a trip to the bathrooms worse. It was cold, damp and grey and then after a few weeks where the weather couldn’t decide what it would do, it would be hot, really hot, and humid until at least November.
This last winter was particularly bad, and between January and March, I think we saw blue skies on two or three days. At least when the weather was good people appreciated it, and made the most of it, but that much grey does play havoc with your mood.
So coming back to Australia for some fresh air and blue skies, we were probably a little disappointed when we drove into Tanunda on a cold and wet July day. Fortunately the rain didn’t last too long, and we have since been treated to some beautiful weather. After Hanoi’s constant heat once summer hit, the fluctuations in temperature during spring have been a bit hard to get used to but no different to Canberra.
And even after 3.5 months, I still marvel at the blue skies and the scenery. I swore leaving Hanoi, I would never take blue sky granted, although now I find myself wishing for a little more rain as we head toward the summer bushfire season. At the same time, I have realised that it wasn’t just blue sky we craved in Hanoi, but space. While we were lucky to be close to the huge West Lake giving us some sense of space, for the most part we were cramped – at home with four or five three and four storey homes around us, at work by the construction of a tower which eventually reached about 60 stories and on the roads by traffic, business and life on the footpath.
So the fact that even on the five minute drive from our house in the “suburbs” to school, the fact I drive past vineyards and can see the hills is just beautiful. I’ve already decided that our next house will need to be more rural with a view that isn’t a metal fence but even so, the sunsets we watched from our house the other night were spectacular. And this morning, as I took a detour along a dirt road due to some road works on my usual route, I couldn’t help but pull over and take some photos of the vines and mountains.
And as the seasons change, we’re also reminded of how long we have been here. From arriving in winter where the vines had just been pruned so were brown and barren, but the fields were green, to the yellow fields of canola and the buds bursting on the vines, to now where the vineyards are a sea of green but the surrounding fields are brown and dusty. It would be easy to take it for granted, but after those years away, and realising just how much the blue sky, fresh air and countryside is contributing to both a sense of calm and a sense of inspiration, that won’t be happening any time soon.