"We need to see your work permit."
I was asked this not to enter Australia, but to leave. Post 9/11, airlines got pernickety about passengers boarding their flights without a return ticket to their home country.
This is actually a long-standing regulation, but was rarely enforced in the past.
Without proof I was employed overseas, Qantas wanted me to buy a return flight back to Australia to enable me to board my flight to Europe. My Swiss work permit was left in Europe in a drawer in my apartment. Why, I had thought, would I need it in Australia while on holiday?
I would have been happy to stay in Australia, but my sister had already driven away from the airport after dropping me off, and the night before in a fit of pique brought on by my impending departure, I had bought copious rounds at the pub to get rid off all my remaining Aussie coins and notes.
And I did have to get back to my job in Switzerland.
I argued with the Qantas representative that since I had a stop over in Singapore, my onward journey was Singapore's problem.
The young overly meticulous girl at the check-in counter - who was getting uncomfortable with the growing line behind me wanting to check baggage in while we argued - happily delegated responsibility of international carriage law interpretation onto another country and gave me my seat number.
It was the first time a country ever tried to stop me leaving.
Though each time it's difficult mentally to leave my country of birth.
You lose parts of your Australian culture the longer your remain overseas. Partly it's because of age and effort, partly through lack of cultural events or experiences to sustain you.
I do try though to keep touch of goings on in my country of birth.
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