We were up early on January 6th, all of us eager to get out of quarantine. We still had those 10 suitcases we had left the US with (plus our backpacks), and now added to the load the leftover quarantine food that we thought we’d still eat – fruit, cereal packets, and a few grocery items we’d had delivered. We somehow got all this into an elevator and down to the lobby, checked ourselves out of the Meriton, and then rolled it all out of the hotel. A big van-type taxi was parked across the street (I assume the driver knew about quarantine release times) so we piled everything in there and went on to our next place, an apartment-style hotel in Woolloomooloo.
We arrived in Sydney on Dec 23 – a day later than originally expected, but that was far, far less delay than many have suffered. As I was filling out the immigration card just before landing, it was an interesting feeling to tick “Yes” for “intention to permanently emigrate.”
Though there were only about 40 passengers on the plane, before landing we were asked repeatedly to allow plenty of space when deplaning. While we were taxiing to the gate, we were told that we would be met and given instructions by a health official, and should stay in our seats for the time being. Then it was announced that there would be a further delay because another flight had come in just before ours, and we had to give those passengers space in the terminal.
We had tickets, all our paperwork was in order, we were packed and ready to go. In ordinary times, everything should have felt easy and straightforward after some expected stress trying to get out the door to SFO. For this trip, we knew that we wouldn’t really feel safe until we were on the flight from LAX to Sydney and well out over the Pacific, too far for the plane to turn around and go back for any reason. This may seem like overreaction, but our fears were not unfounded. There are, and had been for much of the year, only three flights a day from the US to Sydney, all of them booked as fully as quarantine caps would allow: maybe 40 passengers maximum. I had been keeping an eye on international arrivals at Sydney airport and had not seen any of those direct US flights get cancelled, though I had heard about one or two cancellations in the Facebook quarantiners group.
This airline scarcity is unaccustomed in our lifetimes. And we feared it might get even worse. Australia is currently allowing in only Australian citizens and their family members, subject to quarantine. International tourism into Australia is shut down (although international students are now being allowed back in, with quarantine). Many thousands of Australians want to return home from all over the world, but once all who wish to return have done so, will there be any flights at all? (Until the blessed day that tourism again becomes safe.) For a while we wondered if we’d be able to get a flight anytime in the next six months, let alone by the end of 2020.
Our last months and weeks in the US were hectic, to put it mildly. We had already been preparing for the move for weeks: making and adding to lists of things to give away and enticing friends to take them, getting various paperwork we needed to be able to get into Australia (only Australian citizens and their immediate family members are currently allowed in), canceling subscriptions, insurance, utilities, etc. You don’t know how many financial and logistical ties you have to a place until you’re trying to unravel them all.
We had planned all along to do our own packing, to avoid possible COVID exposure from the movers. It would be a big job, and we started weeks in advance, putting everything we wouldn’t need to see or use for a few months into boxes. (Another advantage to doing your own packing is that it’s far less wasteful: I spent well over $1000 on packing materials, but we used clothing, linens, etc. to pad our breakables, and therefore less bubble wrap.)
Though we haven’t said it out loud to many people until recently, our move to Australia has been in the works for years (very fortunately, because it took two years to get my partner visa!). In that time, the people we have told often had questions about why I would want to move “so far away.”
The grimly ironic situation now is that no one questions our decision to move – many are frankly envious.
But, even before COVID, there were plenty of good reasons to move to Australia.