How we met: ‘As the borders closed, I got the last seat on the last plane out, to be with her’

In 2019, Damoon was teaching at a school in Coonamble, a town in rural New South Wales. He was keen to date, having just come out of a relationship, but felt his options were limited. “Lots of people wanted to have kids and I didn’t, plus the dating pool was very small where I lived,” he said. In December, he posted in a subreddit community for people who are childfree, explaining who he was and what he was hoping to find in a relationship. Mengzhu, known as Meng to her friends, spotted the post as soon as it went up.

“I thought he looked really nice and interesting, but I was living miles away in a remote mountain town in Queensland,” she says.” She responded to wish him luck, but said it was unlikely they would ever meet. Damoon sent her a direct message to ask if they could be friends instead. They began exchanging WhatsApp messages and calls, realising they were both passionate about travel. Meng told him she was a dentist in Mount Isa, often driving for days to remote towns to visit indigenous communities who have poor access to healthcare.

“I realised we had an incredible amount of chemistry,” says Damoon. “We were on the same page about what we wanted and I could see myself having a future with her.” They both had travel plans later that month and realised they would be in Malaysia at the same time. They met for the first time just after Christmas, in Kuching. “I’m a crazy cat lady and Kuching is a city of cats,” says Meng. “We met a lot of strays and went to a cat museum. We walked around and ate street food from the night markets.” After just a few days, they had decided they wanted to get married. “When you meet someone who shares your values and dreams, after a string of relationships that don’t work, it makes sense,” she says.

In January, they returned to their home towns in Australia but kept in touch every day. By mid-March, however, it became clear that it would soon be impossible for them to travel to see each other due to the pandemic. As Queensland announced it was closing its borders, Damoon sought unpaid leave from work and made a mad dash to the airport. “I got on the very last seat on the last plane out.” He stopped overnight in Brisbane where he met Meng’s mother for the first time. “She was living there, working in an aged care facility. By that time, we’d had our wedding rings made and so I went to pick them up, too.” He made it to Mount Isa the next day, but had to return to work after four weeks. With no commercial flights in operation, he hired a car and drove 22 hours home.

In July, Meng got a new job and moved to Goondiwindi, three kilometres from the New South Wales border. When restrictions eased, she and Damoon put in an offer on a house together – but it soon became more complicated. In August, the Australian government introduced a bubble system, in line with local government areas, meaning Meng was allowed to travel just inside the New South Wales border but Damoon couldn’t leave his state. They met frequently at motels just inside the border bubble. “It was like we were having an affair,” laughs Damoon. By November 2020, he was finally able to enter Queensland and, after two months of driving back and forth, he left his job and moved permanently to his new home. “It was such a relief. The distance had been really hard,” he says. They got married on Christmas Day in Hobart, Tasmania, followed by a honeymoon on the Sunshine Coast.

Damoon loves his partner’s intelligence and her consideration for others. “Meng has the same sense of humour as me – dry and sometimes morbid. She’s very conscious of important things happening in the world and, through her work, she makes her country a better place.”

Meng says her husband always puts 110% into his relationships. “He’s very connected to the world and he has a gift for languages – he’s picked up Chinese trying to talk to my mum. We both love exploring other cultures and, when we met, our plan was to travel internationally three times a year. We’ve got a lot of catching up to do.”