Monday, September 6, 2010

Why I am Australian...

I read this book in two hours... with a two week break in between. When I first picked it up I had tears welling up by page four. I had to put it down at page 80. It was as though she'd taken something sharp and cut a little hole somewhere in me and I couldn't quite handle the flood of emotion.
Nikki Gemmell is an Australian writer  - the name behind the The Bride Stripped Bare. We are terribly similar. (ah yes apart from the award winning author bit)

She moved to London 12 years ago when I did, also looking for a life outside the ordinary and stayed. I lasted seven years, she's still there. Her husband is Australian too. They even did the same sort of work I did. She has two boys a little older than mine and a little girl.  Now she wants them to know Australia. This book is written for them.

It nearly broke me but I loved it. I finished it last night and read it all in such a rush I felt as though I hadn't quite taken a breath for an hour.

Nikki (we're on first name terms, now of course) who lives in Notting Hill writes so vividly about London that I can almost smell it and taste it again.  Those were the first tears.

Then I welled up a little more at her rich descriptions of Australia, its openness, it's roughness, its sunshine. She's sunshine obsessed and I remember that feeling after the suffocating, grim, grey, endless English winter. She wants her children to know Australia and to be Australian. She feels as though she's raising little English boys, pale and polite.

I laughed at her memories of her own childhood and her joy in coming home each year... the way I also used to revel in coming back and eating buckets of mint slices, the joy I had when we left London for Australia and saw our toddler in turn revel in the wide open spaces and warm weather, knowing we'd made the right choice.

I come from a family of migrants. My great grandparents were all migrants to South Africa - one set gave up and went back to Scotland. Snakes or snow I suppose. In turn, my parents are migrants to Australia.

I feel embarrassed by this reaction, this flood of emotion. I am not a migrant who's moved cultures, left Russia or China and come to a totally foreign culture. I haven't fled a despot or war or persecution. 
I don't see myself as a migrant but I know what it is to not quite know one's place in the world.

I have spent just long enough in another country to start to feel as though it's more home than the old home. I felt such a wrench leaving London that I felt I was making a huge mistake leaving. It took a year to like Australia again and get used to it.  I now live in a place that is so close to Australia that people often think it should be. They're wrong, New Zealand is  different. Similar but not the same.

Now I guess I'm raising little Kiwis. My five year old cried in frustration when I mimicked his changing accent the other day. I remember my parents doing the same to me. I'll try not to do it anymore.

I know I am Australian. Not born but bred. As my new mate Nikki agrees, it's not perfect (just watch breakfast television and you'll want to leave again).

We'll get back one day and before we lose our children to the land of earthquakes and All Blacks... for my husband I don't know which is more dangerous.


  1. What a lovely post..There is something about Australia, and it's not the obvious. The book sounds wonderful, I might have to find a copy. Perfect for you, as you said..Rachaelxx

  2. Nice post Ann... Bit of a book review and a good one. Makes you want to go and get the book and have a good read. ;-)

  3. Even though I'm not Australian or English, I share many of the feelings that you express so well in this post. I often feel torn between two countries.

    P.S. I love Australia. Every so often, my husband and I dream a little dream about moving to Aussie. xx

  4. Ooh, Ann. I have been dying to read that book for ages and now you've whetted my appettie even more. Lovely post. J x

  5. It's so nice to hear this from someone who understands this feeling. I'm the same about NZ. People here can't understand why I want to go back so bad. After all the weather in Queensland is perfect right? But life's about more than sunny days. And naturally, people don't exactly want to be hearing everything that I think is wrong with their country, so I try to just keep it to myself.I too, did the accent teasing thing to my kids until it drove my daughter to tears.
    I REALLY wanted to go home last night when I opened the front foor to check on the cane toad that was making it's presence heard on our doorstep. I pressed my face right up to the screen door to see, when a gecko nearly gave me a heart attack as it raced past my face *shudder*.
    I'm guessing you will be having residual feelings after reading this book and it takes a little time to get your equilibrium back, until something else comes along to unsettle you.
    If there was anything I would change about Australia it would be that my kids be allowed to wear sandals to school in summer.
    So Nikki has 2 boys AND a girl huh? ;o)
    Have a great day Ann.

  6. Oh my. I might have to read that book. On the other hand, I might not as it sounds close to the bone for me too. We are expat Australians, and it breaks my heart sometimes when I refer to some famous historical Australian personality and my kids just look at me blankly. We've lived here in Auckland for over 11 years now and my kids are definitely Kiwi. Hubby and I often have the "what if we moved back?" conversation - but we would lose our kids, especially our daughter.
    *sigh* - sunshine and red dust. Such an evocative image.
    Cate :-)

  7. Thanks for that fantastic book review Ann. I had to laugh about your little one's changing accent. My kids spent 18 months living in the UK when they were 5 and 2 and came back with beautiful accents, which alas didn't last very long! And my aversion to Australian breakfast tv is now almost complete...blogging before going to work is much more fun (and educational!)

  8. Wow, what a beautiful post Ann! You've made me want to run to the library and get that book!
    I've only ever lived in Australia (done a bit of travelling) but hubby is Sth African so I can sort of understand your feelings of being torn as I know he does. So many people these days are 'citizens of the world' but there is something primal about your land, I always cry when I fly over the harbour bridge and when returning after weeks away, I would be no good if I had to move somewhere else.
    Thank you for such a lovely post,

  9. Lovely post Ann, we leave a little and gain a little each place we settle I believe, I think I shall enjoy that book:)

  10. I know what you mean about another country seeming more like home than your home one - that happened to me when I lived in the USA - was really, really hard to leave. I lived in Australia for awhile too and grew to love it, but I'm happy back here in NZ - it's familiar - although just now I wouldn't mind leaving Canterbury. :o)
    I laughed at the accent thing too. My little nephews and niece living in Canada have the weirdest accents. My kids have a hard time understanding what they're saying. Kiwi and Canadian make for an interesting sound.

  11. This is such a good post. I've only ever lived in one place but you really made me imagine how it would feel to be from a seperate country than your children. I always thought that would be a slight tug on the heart-strings, an occasional pang that their references and memories will be so different. But then again that happens within gaps of generations as well, even if you stay in the same place.

  12. Love this one too, I read it a little while ago and devoured it quickly. A fantastic read...and one day I can't wait to read your story. I imagine you'll be a best seller as well! Emma. xx

  13. G'day Ann-

    My dear friend Jane in Tasmania has recommended I visit your blog.
    I am very glad that I listened to her {again!}- I think we'd have a wonderful weekend together- talking books, home mags, living in ol'Blighty, kids etc etc...and your friend Nikki ;)

    We're just about to head home to Oz, three kiddos in tow after four years in the UK- I am of course, on an emotional roller coaster at the moment- so good to meet someone who knows just what we are going through..

    Anyhow- night here- pop over and say G' to hear more....

    Melissa x


Thanks for taking the time to write, Ann x


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