Courtney Neville is a recruitment specialist who spends her time between PNG and Australia. She was a boarder at Girls Grammar school in Canberra and then attended Narrabundah College before moving to Queensland. Courtney lived in and around Brisbane for 7 years, studying and working, and then moved to Townsville with her two youngest siblings (and two dogs) to join their army sister.
“If you are from PNG, then why are you WHITE?”
This is the question – or accusation in some cases – that I have always encountered growing up, and one that I am sure I will continue to hear.
I grew up in Papua New Guinea as a third generation Papua New Guinean with white Australian roots. I was born in Canberra so my mum could be with her family around the birth, but then moved to PNG when I was a newborn and lived there until I was 12. Every year, my family and I used to come to Australia to visit relatives around Christmas, and every time we visited, I remember being extremely shy talking to white Australians. The Australian currency confused me and I used to get lost in shopping centres, going up and down escalators like there was no tomorrow. The air and the people smelled different, too.
Coming to Australia and boarding in Canberra at 12 years of age was about the biggest cultural and lifestyle shock I could have ever experienced. It took me a long time to fit in – truly, years and years – as I had different interests and could not relate to any of my peers at all.
I never felt Australian, but as I got older, I never felt completely Papua New Guinean, either.
Even now I have never really followed a group of people or a trend. I think the transition from PNG to Australia really shaped this in me. I might try something new from time to time, but I have always reverted back to my natural ways and can never seem to want to be anything other than who I identify myself to be. I have always thought it is better to be hated for who I am, than loved for who I am not.
As I have gotten older, I believe that I morphed into my own little person who is neither completely Papua New Guinean nor completely Australian. I have taken values from both countries and lifestyles. It was only much later in life, after school, that I had this realisation, and started to feel comfortable with myself and the person I felt that I was.
In the end, maybe it isn’t society that defines or judges us, or tries to put us into boxes. Maybe it is us judging and defining ourselves. I know that I can sometimes be my own worst enemy, trying to understand and confirm my identity and place in the community. There were definitely times when I struggled to try and want to fit in and be someone I wasn’t. However, I knew deep down that I was not going to do that. I did not want to be forcibly happy.
I always get asked where I prefer to live, and I could not tell you, and will probably never have an answer. At nearly thirty, I have come to the conclusion that it’s both a blessing and a curse to be born, bred and educated in two very different countries. When you are in one of them, you miss the lifestyle, friends and family in the other. The places I belong to are very different, but together they balanced me out and provided me with memories, cultures, traditions, values, beliefs, lessons and perspectives on life.
I’m so lucky to have roots in both countries and blood from both lands. I could never choose.
At the moment, I am living in Townsville, in the north of Australia. It is good for work and I have my dogs with me, and it is also close enough to PNG that I can jump on a plane and visit my friends and family whenever I want.
Wherever I live, though, PNG has always been my sanctuary. In all honesty, I am yet to take a close friend or romantic partner back there, as this person will be the one who will see the deepest parts of me; my identity and the innermost parts of my upbringing and conditioning.
PNG is my identity. It is where I grew up and felt my connection to the traditions and cultures of two countries. On the other side, Australia has been my educator and life teacher. Either way, I would not be where I am right now in life and would not be the person I am if I had grown up and lived solely in one or other of the countries.
This is why I can’t choose and why I will always be humble and grateful to the memories, events, lessons and people along my journey. Both places are my homes and I will always boomerang between the two. That is a given, and also a promise to my family and friends in each place.
© Courtney Neville, 2017