“Every traveler has a home of his own, and he learns to appreciate

 it the more from his wandering,” Charles Dickens

On the long road home after two months away in far north Queensland, I pondered about the rite of passage of homecoming. 

The signs and significance of the event are relative perhaps to the distance and time 

away, I thought.  Returning from the nearby shops, signs of home are similarly close in – the automatic turning of the steering wheel into your street, the sight of the flowering shrub at the driveway entrance, or the thought of a cup of tea.  

Arriving back from a long overseas stint some years ago, I wasn’t prepared for the shock of familiarity that greeted me when I stepped outside the Sydney airport, the speed of travel making the juxtaposition from Europe profound.

It was the smell of ocean and gum leaves, the warble of magpies, but moreover the quality of squinting light that I recognised in a sweet moment as home.

Travel by car the changes are more gradual, and take a little more attention. Trundling south it was sometimes a change in the shape of the distant hills, the crossing of a mountain, the passing of a landmark that held a particular memory and the appearance of certain trees or birds. They were some of the external signs, the internal one, a gradual sense of belonging.  

Leaving in mid-winter, we arrived back to a spring in full bloom. Before even stepping inside we headed for the garden with our torches to check out the changes. 

The rocket seedlings we had planted before leaving were lanky and flowering, the broccoli still throwing up small heads.

The peppermint has returned, the nettle tall and strong, the nectarine in spectacular pink blossom, and the warrigal greens a verdant groundcover.

According to my father, the channel-billed cuckoo beat me home by only two days, perhaps flying over us one evening while we slept. 

Friends and family are of course curious to hear the highlights of our adventure. I enjoy their surprised faces when I answer. 

Our last stop was to the family holiday house at Hawks Nest. I rose before sunrise to walk to the main beach. The water was mirror calm and just as clear, giving me full sight of a pod of dolphins surfing the swell. Cabbage Tree island rose larger and more commanding than I remembered, Yacaaba headland like a giant arm hugging the white sand.

After searching unsuccessfully for the quintessential footprint-less tropical beach up north, here it was, as beautiful as anything I had seen on my trip, and mine alone to enjoy. Sitting there watching the sunrise, I wondered how much of what we seek is actually under our noses?

And what really is home anyway? Perhaps it’s less of a place outside of us and more a place within, present always when we open to the beauty all around us, especially in our backyards.