Menna Rawlings CMG

Menna Rawlings

British High Commissioner to Australia

Part of UK in Australia

29th July 2015 Canberra, Australia

Home and away

Home from home: The Rawlings family in Accra, Ghana

I have been travelling a lot in the last few weeks, which has made me reflect on what is ‘home’ and what is ‘away’. Let’s just say it’s not so simple as for the residents of Summer Bay!

Home from home: The Rawlings family in Accra, Ghana
Home from home: The Rawlings family in Accra, Ghana

First of all, as a diplomat, it doesn’t help to become too attached to one place, because at the end of the day it’s somewhere you will inevitably leave within three or four years. Over a 25 year period, I’ve at different times called Brussels, Nairobi, Tel Aviv, Accra, Washington, London and Tunbridge Wells ‘home’ – and now I can add Canberra to that list. Leaving is always hard – saying goodbye to a place, a life, colleagues, friends who have all become familiar. So I try to see each as a chapter in a book of short stories rather than a novel, and embrace the new beginnings without looking back or dwelling on the past. Indeed, I think that’s an essential skill for diplomats. Sometimes it’s tough, but the rewards are enormous: I’m certainly enjoying making Australia my new, temporary, home.

Leaving Washington: The traditional American 'yard sale'
Leaving Washington: The traditional American ‘yard sale’

Second, my own sense of what is ‘home’ in the UK is somewhat muddled. My family are (mostly) Welsh; but I was born and brought up in north-west London (Ruislip, for anyone who is familiar with the Metropolitan Line) and went to university at the London School of Economics. When I was 18, my family upped sticks and returned to the homeland, leaving me as the outlier who maintained London as my UK base. So is Wales home, or the south-east of England? Probably the former – at least in my heart and sense of self; but I am ambivalent. I am a passionate supporter of the Welsh Rugby Union team (with an equivalent dislike for England); yet I will go mad for England in football and cricket. I suspect many Australians share this sense of schizophrenia – with 1.2 million Brits here; 30% of Aussies born overseas; and 43% with one parent who was born elsewhere. So it’s not simple for many of us. But it does make for a rich and interesting heritage.

Third, the family thing is complicated. My husband and our youngest child, aged 8, are here with me. Our older two kids, both girls, aged 17 and 15, have stayed at their school in the UK as boarders, so they can finish their exams without the disruption that was a feature of their younger years. So for the first time ever our family is split, with our daughters separated from us by thousands of miles and several time zones. This has been hard, and it creates a permanent sense of yearning to jump on a plane and go get them! Luckily, they are with us at the moment due to the long summer holiday in the UK (which of course is winter here – too bad), and I feel once again that great sense of unity in our home, and that all is well in the world – at least for now.

Heading home: Crossing the Severn Bridge towards Wales
Heading home: Crossing the Severn Bridge towards Wales

So, like I said, it’s complicated. Add to this the fact that my role as High Commissioner requires extensive travel in-country – last week I was in Melbourne, this week it’s Perth, next week Adelaide – and you can see the struggle to balance the home with the away, to enable me to do my job well, without missing too much time with my family. Thank goodness for my supportive husband, our teams in the Australia Network who do a great job of making the most of my time, and an excellent domestic flight network. This all makes it just about do-able, if I can manage to avoid flight delays through fog or icy weather!

I’d welcome any comments or reflections on this blog: what does home and away mean for you? And how do you balance between them?

1 comment on “Home and away

  1. Yes – complicated comes with the territory. Came to Oz 13 years ago, two daughters in Uk, one here. Twin brother in Somerset, elder brother in Shetland. Parents in UK when I left have now both passed away. Hard to deal with that.
    Home is Canberra, and I love the environment, the views, walking and the Namadgi. But home is not yet really Australia. Despite having citizenship, my family roots in the UK still call to me. And there is too much of Australia yet to experience.
    Off to Broom for six weeks of Jawun project shortly. Will definitely be ‘Away’, but quite likely to enhance the sense of ‘Home’ as well. Never mind, England doing rather well in the cricket!

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About Menna Rawlings

Her Excellency Menna Rawlings CMG is the British High Commissioner to Australia. Menna joined the FCO in 1989 and has served in a wide range of Diplomatic Service roles. She…

Her Excellency Menna Rawlings CMG is the British High Commissioner to Australia. Menna joined the FCO in 1989 and has served in a wide range of Diplomatic Service roles. She was most recently a member of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office Management Board as HR Director. This followed postings to Washington DC, Ghana, Israel, Kenya and Brussels. In London, she has served as Private Secretary to the Permanent Under Secretary as well as in Press Office and the Africa and EU Directorates.