Southbank visitors hold their breath as they prepare to fly out of country

Brendan Rees

A South American couple who has called Southbank home for the past year are preparing to fly home, but admit they are “keeping calm” amid the uncertainty of border shutdowns.

Natalia Rivas Chiessa said she arrived in Victoria from Chile nine years ago to live with friends in Melbourne’s south-east, at a time when she had “zero” English skills.

But after taking up English classes and later, a TAFE course in international business and accounting, Ms Rivas Chiessa, 34, quickly found her feet and landed a job managing Austro Bakery in South Melbourne – an experience she described as “amazing people, bread, and people”.

She also met the love of her life and now husband Andres Forero, 28, six years ago while in Melbourne after he had travelled from Colombia to work in hospitality management.

They have been staying at the Australia 108 tower, the tallest residential building in the Southern Hemisphere, which they said was “quite amazing and beautiful”.

The couple plan to fly out via Qatar Airways on December 10 – first to Ms Rivas Chiessa’s homeland in Chile for three to four months, and then to Colombia for three years. “After that we will see,” she said.

Asked if they were feeling confident about their flight going ahead, Ms Rivas Chiessa said “don’t tell me about it, I don’t want to feel panic about it”. “I want to keep calm, but it’s very something that can change at any time,” she said.

“Obviously with the situation we are starting to feel more stressed.” Looking back at their time in Southbank, Ms Rivas Chiessa said they had loved living by the riverside and everything it had to offer, which was “totally different” to her home in the capital city of Santiago.

“I really like it because you’re next to the city,” she said.

“This is a very cosmopolitan country, you can find many options – we really enjoy that, some days we feel like Indian food and other days Asian food, and it’s very easy to find.”

The couple said they also felt a lot safer in Melbourne, saying, “You can walk around not caring much about a phone in your hand knowing nothing is going to happen to you. You can also wear gold and silver … in Chile, this is impossible.”

Ms Rivas Chiessa, who used to manage a tea and coffee shop back home, said she loved shopping at the Broad Bean Organic Grocer in Southbank.

The Grampians, Mornington Peninsula and Geelong have been among their favourite places to visit.  Asked if they had considered returning to Melbourne one day, Ms Rivas Chiessa had mixed feelings.

“We’re obviously super-excited to go back home,” she said.

“We’re homesick … we think we already have enough of Australia. “I have to pack nine years in two suitcases, it’s been very hard,” she laughed •

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