When Donna Shepherd first heard about Australia during a Geography class in first form, she went home and told her family she wanted to visit during summer so she would get to see snow – since seasons in Australia are typically the opposite of what the northern hemisphere experiences.
Little did she know that many years later, she would be calling Tasmania, an island state of the Australian continent, her new home.
Donna moved from Barbados in February 2005 to do a Masters in Clinical Psychology. She decided on Australia because once she qualified for a student visa she could move with her entire family – her then 12-year-old son Chad and her husband Anthony. Also, Tasmania was the smallest state there, so coming from tiny Barbados, she decided the island would be the best option.
After arriving, she found a Seventh Day Adventist Church family that helped her feel a bit more at home. When her studies were completed, Donna easily found a job, and her son had already settled into school and made lots of friends, so she decided to stay.
She is currently self-employed, but previously worked as a school psychologist and spent six years with Headspace, a national youth health centre. With such a busy life, and the fact that the trip from Tasmania to Barbados is 36 hours, Donna has only visited her homeland twice since relocating.
Of course, being away for so long, there are several aspects of home that she misses.
“The beaches here [in Tasmania] are close to Antarctica. So, they are beautiful but they are cold! I also missed dunks, sea grapes, golden apples, ackees, salt fish, breadfruit . . .”
Tropical fruit are available in Tasmania, but as it is not a tropical island, those items come with a pretty hefty price tag. Other items are not even available, as Donna discovered when she decided to try her hand at conkies for the first time last November.
“They looked nothing like what they were supposed to, because the ingredients were different. I couldn’t find the regular sweet potato so had to use the orange one, so the colour was off and banana leaves would be too expensive so I had to use foil,” Donna said with a laugh.
She does claim, though, that they didn’t taste any different and her conkies were a hit. Every now and again, she and her husband cook food for their Tasmanian friends. According to Anthony, his bakes and cornbeef cakes are quite popular.
For them, Barbados’ Independence is a double celebration, as Anthony’s birthday also falls on November 30. However, since moving to Tasmania, they have not been able to get the day off to enjoy the Barbadian public holiday. This year, Anthony plans to take a vacation day to celebrate since it is his 40th birthday.
The pair have found they have become more patriotic since living in Tasmania. Little things that would not have mattered had they been living in Barbados, they now tend to cling to. Anthony gave the example of his locker number at work – Barbados’ area code, 246.
“Actually, that wasn’t mine at first. I had 245. I told the guy that had 246 that I was going to get rid of him so I could get his locker. Coincidentally, months later, he got fired so I took his locker. If I was home I would not have cared but since I was here I made sure I got the locker,” he said.
Moving to Tasmania did bring a few culture shocks. There are few Blacks there and even those are mainly refugees from Africa.
“Becoming a minority was a big thing. Physically I could see that I was different and it was interesting,” Donna said.
However, they were not treated differently because of the colour of their skin. Both Donna and Anthony describe Australians as having a very laid back and relaxed attitude. According to Donna, first name basis is the norm on most jobs, with the exception being teachers and politicians.
Despite them adjusting to their new way of life, Donna says she still gets homesick sometimes.
“I get homesick when it is cold and miserable, or if I have a problem and everyone is far away; also, birthdays. I have about five nieces and nephews that I have not been around for a lot of their lives,” she said.
So how does Donna cope? Old dub CDs. She says those were easier to acquire than calypso CDs, so when she has a bout of homesickness, she blasts Beenie Man or Bounty Killa from her car stereo and her mood instantly lifts.
Donna says she has been to more cricket matches in Tasmania than when she was in Barbados. The first time she saw the West Indies playing live was actually in Tasmania. She jokingly added that she knew more Australian players than West Indian players and she was initially cheering for both teams.
“Then the West Indies began to lose so I started cheering for Australia only!”
The Shepherds have made Tasmania their home, so there are no immediate plans to leave, although both Anthony and Donna said they would like to return home upon retirement. They have now grown accustomed to the cooler temperatures and the laid-back atmosphere in Tasmania, but one thing is for sure: they will always be Bajans at heart.
If you (or anyone you know) are a Barbadian living abroad and would like to be to be featured, send an email to [email protected].