Settling in

It’s become a habit of mine to focus on negatives and risks. I think it comes from a somewhat nervous disposition. I was a shy child, at six already falling into the ‘caretaker’ role – bringing Mum my teddy bear to soothe her heartbroken sobs after a late night phone call from a bad-news boyfriend. Smiling through the tightness in my stomach as my Dad clutched my hand, walking me to the door of the bus. Time always ran out fast on Sundays, signalling the end of every-second-weekend-with-Dad.

Coming over here I naturally had fears. None of them came to pass. Things have turned out really pretty great. I’ve found work, and never been unemployed for more than a few weeks. I have people here that care about me, and a couple of scruffy animal friends that recognise me too. Sometimes home can feel like owning a library card, and having a local fish and chipper.
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When things go wrong

‘What time will you be home?’


‘Oh haha,’ I say. ‘Sux-thirty, you mean. I’ll get the water boiling for the veg.’

‘How’s your arm?’ says Mike.

‘Sore. Both of them are.’

Yep. There comes a time in any grand adventure when it stops feeling like an adventure – it’s turned into your new life. And then you hit the speedbumps. Or, as we are in Christchurch, let’s say major detours.

Before you know it, the promised new direction has turned into a single lane of traffic going under 30km an hour. Add to that the inevitable string of traffic cones (a couple knocked over) and half a dozen chaps in high-vis scratching their heads and staring into a shallow hole like they’re expecting Jessica Alba in a bikini and hardhat to pop out of it and say howdy.

Safe bet to cancel your plans for the day. You’re on the slow road to nowhere.



Waiting for the bus, early morning Christchurch

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Change of season

It’s the second day of spring today and I am sitting on the floor in my upper level room typing this as warm air breathes through the open window. The winter here was uncannily mild – barely any rain, and no snow in Christchurch itself. The farmers will be concerned.

img_3135There are big cracks in the wall of this house from the earthquake five years ago. In six weeks its getting bulldozed and rebuilt.

I’ve taken the day off because a virus I picked up two weeks ago has reared its ugly head again. I spent yesterday dry coughing and sleeping. Today I feel a little better but my voice is still croaky and I don’t have the stamina to talk much – a key part of the job I’m doing at the moment.

Over the past two weeks I’ve been absorbing a different kind of working culture. Results are important, and self-development is encouraged. Ripe grounds for the tech-savvy and ambitious.

I am ambitious – for balance. The old seesaw is still there, bumping from one extreme to the other. Income versus time to write; which one is uppermost this time? For me, finding my way round a new country and with a new job, making time to nurture the fragile plant of writing ambitions is something that needs work. I am out of balance at the moment – hence, getting sick. If Mum were alive, she would say that my body is trying to tell me something. Like I need to let myself relax more.

Security is important. Having a job, making money and supporting myself are important. Part of being an adult after all. But there are other pieces of the puzzle too – including making space for a creative life.

I saw Mum and Brian struggle with this equation all their lives. They dreamt up ingenious ways of making money: some worked for a time. Making and selling kites. Running a bed and breakfast. Teaching people how to build their own wooden canoes. When the money got tight, Brian would go back to relief teaching. As a teenager, I was puzzled by the exhaustion he exhibited after a day of sitting in a classroom; sitting at the kitchen table with his head in his hands at nighttime. During the summer holidays my sister and I would join Mum and Brian out on the vineyards training vines in the January heat. It was menial work and I wondered why they accepted it when they could have done other things. Perhaps they were trying to make room for their dreams?

So what have I done over the past month and a half?

I’ve learnt how to swing a golf club. I’ve seen Mount Cook up close.

img_3207I’ve fallen in love with a tall kiwi with blue eyes and an assertive manner and a mean golf swing. It’s been amazing and unexpected. Three months ago I was riding home on trams, feeling invisible as I took my seat next to businessmen who wouldn’t look up from their screens. I was dreaming change but unable to comprehend that it can come so swiftly and in such a positive way.

I’ve shared some of my least-proud moments with Mike and it was okay, it is safe to let myself be seen.

My adventure is going differently from how I expected it. I am growing, but not in the ways I imagined. My old narrative was one about walking alone. Instead, I am here in the midst of life, with its daily pleasures and small frustrations. I am shopping for groceries on the weekend and learning how to cook a juicy steak . I’m talking to people. I’m getting up early to jump on a bus to work and catching glimpses of snow-capped mountains through the windows. I am reading in my spare time. I am learning how to argue and to express my opinion freely.

I am learning how to be proud of who I am. I am questioning what work I want to engage in years to come. I am still writing and the storyline follows the lines more of a cardiogram – spiking then falling hundreds of times a day – than a smooth arc.

Twice now I have felt the earth wobble beneath me, a gentle pulsing that I only recognized after was the tremors of an earthquake. Once I was sitting in a chair outside and I thought Mike’s dog was bumping against the chair legs. The second time Mike said, ‘If I tell you to get up, go and stand in the doorway in the bathroom.’ Not words I expected to hear while lying in bed at 9.50pm on a Monday.

Adaptation is a slow but sure process.

Letting life in

You can’t let life in in half measures, so I am discovering. Where change is concerned, open the door a crack and the flood tide will rush in. It can stir up the deep waters of the past, and the debris clinging barnacle-like to the bottom of your psyche.

IMG_3220I’ve been in New Zealand nineteen days now. This is the fourth time I’ve hopped across the Tasman. My second and third visits I spent going on long walks (‘tramping’ in kiwi) – the Queen Charlotte Track in 2014, and the Routeburn and the Abel Tasman tracks last December. My first steps in this country though were in Christchurch, in 2012.  I’m back in Christchurch now and it’s great being close to both the mountains and the sea. I’m falling in love with this city, whose graceful lines and beautiful gardens are still evident beneath the scaffolding and the traffic cones, and the potholed roads that were ripped apart in the earthquakes.

Living a new place, my sensory impressions become sharper. Turning a corner, I’m surprised by a glimpse of  mountains in the distance, capped with new snow like freshly iced buns. Without sunglasses, my eyes squint through the low winter sunlight. The sky is a different shade; cooler than Melbourne’s fine-weather blue. A moment ago, before stepping into a cafe for a coffee (with cinnamon on top, not chocolate – a kiwi special), a few flakes of snow landed on my sleeve. The sensation was as gentle as the touch of a special dog – my new friend Millie, a gorgeously scruffy canine – nosing my arm.

There’s so much to learn, so much of interest. But the simplest things can be challenging too. Where do I get the bus into town and how much change do I need? Why isn’t my new bankcard working? And will the way I pronounce ‘six’ (ocker Aussie-style) sound hilarious to locals?

Then there are the bigger questions. What work should I apply for? Will I fit in here? What rugby team should I support? Which way is north?

IMG_3221I am staying in a house in New Brighton through Airbnb, with the lovely Simon and Sarah, two laid-back people who have made me feel at home in their home, offering me a taste of their vegan parmesan cheese (not as disgusting as it sounds) at dinner time, and free use of Simon’s beautiful old writing desk when I want it. The desk is an antique that belonged to Simon’s father, who wrote twelve novels at it. ‘It’s got good writing vibes,’ Simon tells me.

A quote from the Dalai Lama on the back of the bathroom door reminds me that kindness is always possible. Another says to embrace the imperfections of the ones we love.

I’ve met someone who loves in whole, not half, measures. Kindness is in the bedrock of his nature, as is a wicked sense of humour. He’s helping me to settle in here; I’m no longer in it alone. A local Canterbury lad, he’s shown me the routes round the city and has helped me decipher the game of rugby (not an easy task!)

Having a friend and a partner in this crazy adventure is amazing, and I’ve found myself doing things that I never thought I’d have the courage to do. I’ve gathered up the confidence to drive again, and I’ve even gotten behind the wheel of a van. Turns out that’s not so tricky after all; it’s actually great to be able to see the road from up high. (‘That’s because you’re short,’ my partner’s father told me. Apparently being teased here means you’re liked and accepted. Or so I’m assured!! ). I’ve had a go at golf too, and it turns out that I’m good at putting. Must be all those childhood mini-golf lessons with my own lovely Dad and my sister, Alexis.

IMG_3218Last Friday evening I ran along New Brighton beach as the tide rushed in. I had the beach to myself apart from a lone brave surfer. The clouds gathered behind me in a threatening grey horseshoe shape reminiscent of the Nothing in The Neverending Story. I looked forward, concentrating on the feeling of sand under my soles and watching the pearlescent sheen on water. I was reminded of why I’d wanted to come here in the first place: the amazing nature, the open spaces, and the trust I felt that everything would be okay. By the time I’d turned around to run back, the clouds had dispersed and the weather blown out over the sea.

‘Being okay’ is a fine goal to have, I’ve realised; but it is only the start. The time’s come to open myself up to the possibility of more.

I’m dedicating this to my Canterbury man :-). It’s a joy and a blast getting to know you, more and more every day.IMG_3225

A spark ignites in the predawn black

Introducing Tamsin’s New Zealand adventure


Final sunset from my Melbourne apartment balcony

At age 27 I moved to the UK for a gap year working holiday. After landing in Heathrow, I made my way up to a friend’s flat in Birmingham. I was grateful to have a roof over my head while I ‘landed’ in a new country, getting my bearings. Still , my friend was away and it was a shock to find myself alone in dark and freezing England mid-January. I remember wandering through the aisles of Sainsbury’s in my cheap wool coat, picking up small plastic tubs of yoghurt and jumbo-size boxes of tea. Then the slippery dash along icy pavements as the afternoon light drained from the sky, slamming the door closed against the bitter wind. The quiet was foreign and a little frightening.

Although those first two weeks in England had moments of loneliness, I was certain that I’d made the right move. The plan was to find a few months work then travel round Europe once the summer arrived. There was a job waiting for me back in Sydney once the year was up, which alleviated money worries and stress about re-entry to Australia. The Europe gap year is an established tradition people in their twenties. The knowledge that I was following a well-established path gave me confidence back then. In the end, it all worked out pretty much as I’d planned.

Six years later and I’ve  jumped the Tasman and moved to New Zealand. I’ve suspended my studies for the moment, giving up my flat and farewelling my work in Melbourne. I don’t have any family or many friends over here, although I hope that the latter will only be a temporary circumstance. My work colleagues gave me a card with the well-loved Robert Frost quote about the road less traveled. It does feel at times that in my thirties now I am no longer moving with the tide. I am uprooting myself and starting over, at a time of life traditionally marked for settling down and building up.


NZ dreaming – by Tamsin Martin

It was hard at first to articulate a single reason why I wanted to make this move. To do a working holiday. Because I want to write more, and the New Zealand environment inspires me and fills me with joy. Because I love to tramp and the South Island is a hiker’s paradise, with endless snow-capped mountains to traverse and no bothersome tiger snakes to worry about. Because I want to spend time in nature and reconnect to my spirituality. For something different. Because I have a hunch that help me to heal old sadnesses, and embrace life more.

In October 2014 I was sleeping alone in the Megalong Valley, my first solo camping trip. Cox’s River, which runs right past the campground, was gushing with freshly melted mountain snow. The sound lulled me into a deep sleep. In a dream I stood on the banks of Lake Pukaki, admiring the sparkling artic blue waters, a treasured memory from 2012 holiday in NZ. I heard my mother’s voice in my head, saying, ‘if you trust me, you will not fall.’ She always encouraged me to follow my dreams, offering unconditional love and support. The memory of this has become my strong foundation, and helps to give me the nudge I need to get off the starting block and dive in.


Aoraki (Mt Cook), Mackenzie Region

I’ve heard it said that committing to the decision is the hardest part of any venture. It is true that once I shared my plan, I was overwhelmed by the support and encouragement offered to me by friends. Offers of a spare room to crash in when I return. A beautiful typed note from my friend Helen, who I stayed with after the removalists had packed up all my things, inviting me to treat her home as my home. Kind words and notes wishing me the best and encouraging me to go for it, ‘full noise’ (thanks Mike). It’s been humbling and amazing to see how much support I have been offered, at every step of the way. Thank you to everyone who has helped me to be brave enough to give this a shot.

More to come once I have settled in a little. And if you know any nice kiwis who wouldn’t mind befriending an Aussie woman new to Christchurch…let me know!!


This beautiful beanie is a gift from my dear friend, and an original Janet  Spink design.

Intuition as an ally

Let me preface this by saying I have worked as a stage manager. I love processes and systems. When I’m reading a book that suggests ‘trusting your intuition’, I feel a little uneasy. To my mind, concrete steps get results. Waiting for ‘a sign’ or the right feeling reminds me of that terrible movie Serendipity. The couple spend most of the movie torturing themselves (and anyone watching) because they believe that if their love is ‘meant to be’ it will somehow magically happen without them needing to do anything as practical as handing over a phone number.

Recently I went to a free career counselling service offered by my university. Although the counsellor was seemingly unable to wave her magic wand and create the perfect career plan for me (oh well, one can dream), she did say one thing that made me start. ‘You’re a very intuitive person, aren’t you?’ she asked. Uh-oh. What does that mean?

I’ve been listening to Women Who Run with the Wolves by Dr Clarissa Pinkola Estes. My mother had a well worn copy of it in her bookshelf when I was growing up. There was one story I remember in particular, the story of Vasilisa the Brave, an old Russian fairytale. A girl is sent into the forest by her stepfamily to find fire. Vasilisa is alone in a forest full of perils, but she has a secret that helps her to survive. In her pocket, she carries a doll given to her by her dying mother. Whenever she is at a crossroads and unsure which way to turn, the doll moves in her pocket and indicates the way: left, right or straight ahead.

Lake Harris, Routeburn Track. Image by Tamsin Martin

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Writing through futility

Last Thursday evening I sat in a pub in Carlton with a friend who is a writing student like me. We are both at similar stages in our non-fiction manuscripts. We’re both writing on highly personal topics – dead mothers, the complications of grief, the frustration of reaching for truth in a maze of memories that seem to alter every time you dissect them a little more. My friend and I were both questioning if we should continue with our writing. What was the point, we wondered, if our stories may never be read beyond our excellent but limited writing circle? Continue reading