Editor’s Note: Freelance writer Levi Bridges of Sedgwick is documenting the lives of several immigrants in Maine. Their stories will appear periodically in the Bangor Daily News.
For many immigrants, migration is a search for a better life. For others, it’s part of a lifestyle characterized by travel and adventure. In some cases, migration combines these qualities.
“I’ve spent my life being from away,” said Veronica Young, an English-born documentary filmmaker who lives in East Blue Hill.
Young and I recently met on an overcast late-winter day at the Barncastle restaurant in Blue Hill. Unlike many immigrants, Young’s nomadic life initially was forced, then became voluntary.
The filmmaker spent her childhood in post-World War II England until, when Young was 11, her parents gave her surprising news: The family was moving to Australia.
Settlers, migrants, thieves
“England was a bleak place after World War II,” Young said. “So my family went to Australia in search of a better life.”
Founded as a British colony in 1788, Australia was first populated by criminals expelled from Europe. Free settlers, mainly from Great Britain, arrived soon afterward.
After World War II, Australia experienced a severe labor shortage. In the 1950s, the country launched an ambitious campaign to attract new immigrants from war-ravaged Europe by offering them free passage on ships.
The campaign was wildly successful. In 1945, 90 percent of Australia’s 7 million people were born in the country. Today, nearly a quarter of Australia’s 21 million people were born overseas.
From England, Young’s family spent a month sailing around the coast of Africa toward their new home. They settled in the Australian coastal city of Melbourne.
“Because my family uprooted me so early, it has always been easy to keep traveling,” she said.
London and New York
Young grew up in Australia and studied social work at the University of Melbourne. After a stint working in a children’s hospital, she landed a job with a television company.
Realizing that she loved film, Young decided to go where she could learn how to do it well. Australians are known for being adventurous world travelers, so in the early 1960s, Young set sail for Italy.
After touring Europe, Young landed at her grandparents’ home in England and finagled a job as researcher for documentary films in the British Broadcasting Co.’s science department.
“Just like when I first arrived in Australia, I felt like an outsider at the BBC,” said Young. “Many of my co-workers had physics degrees from Oxford. It was a very male-dominated atmosphere, and I was the only woman in my department who wasn’t a secretary.”
In the early ’70s, Young broke into the film industry when a British director working simultaneously on four documentaries in America needed help doing research. Young spent two months in America with him working on the films.
“You could really be expressive in America,” Young recalled. “Back then, America felt more progressive than Britain; I could see that women had more opportunity here.”
Young remained in America, where she became a researcher at the BBC’s New York bureau.
During her filmmaking career, Young worked for the BBC and public television’s “Nova” series. The filmmaker worked on a great range of subjects, from profiling ’70s jazz performers and Nobel Prize winners to producing documentaries about cancer patients and religion. During her career, she lived principally in New York, but her work took her as far away as India, Brazil and Nigeria.
A small fishing village
“Twelve years ago, my husband and I left New York on vacation to visit friends in Sedgwick,” Young said, explaining how she landed in Maine. “We immediately became seduced by Maine’s beauty: the big barns, wonderful old buildings, curvy roads and wide-open spaces.
“So we bought a house,” she said. “It was a very spontaneous decision. My husband called it a five-star fixer-upper. We’re still fixing it.”
As reality television became increasingly popular, it became harder for Young to work on serious film projects. Eventually, the filmmaker moved to her Maine house permanently and started a new life.
Today she is associate director for the Penobscot East Resource Center, an organization in Stonington that strives to secure a future for fishing communities in eastern Maine. Among many initiatives, the resource center has started a lobster hatchery to increase natural populations, conducted scientific research about Maine’s marine species, and strengthened coastal communities by helping local fishermen diversify the fishing industry.
“I love my work because it feels like I’m taking care of the community I live in,” said Young. “Mainers look out for each other, and I like being part of that.”
Still, Young acknowledges she won’t ever be a real Mainer.
“People here always know I’m not a Mainer just by how I talk,” she said in a blend of Australian and English accents.
Young’s foreign identity serves her well in local places such as the Stonington Opera House, where she frequently takes part in dramatic readings. She recently was cast in “Men’s Lives,” a play set in Montauk on New York’s Long Island. It tells the story of how the changing fishing industry decimated the lives of fishermen’s families.
“I once lived near Montauk,” said Young, “so I did a Long Island accent in the play.”
Young remarked that, despite her world travels, she always ends up in fishing communities by the sea. Perhaps it’s that sense of being from away, in familiar places, which makes her feel at home.
“I feel lucky to have wound up in Maine,” she said. “The sense of community here is extraordinary.”
Levi Bridges grew up in Sedgwick and attended high school in Blue Hill. A graduate of Alfred University in New York, he has traveled extensively and studied at universities in Mexico, Spain and Russia. He lives in Portland. If you have an immigrant story in Maine you think should be told, e-mail Bridges at email@example.com.