Monday, June 7, 2010
When Home is...a Country
'Home’ conjures so many images for people. Perhaps it’s a house, family, friends, the surrounding environment – the beach, bush, mountains or city – or maybe it’s a country. It’s certainly that for Australian author Nikki Gemmell who last year published a book about this very topic: Why you are Australian; a letter to my children.
Gemmell and her husband left Australia for England 12 years ago. Now, with three children fast growing up, she feels the pull to her homeland and her extended family more than ever. Moving to Australia for a summer, she wants her children to get to know the country of her birth. She writes, ‘before England settles over you all completely and you never want my country... I want you to experience something of my own childhood for a little while, if possible; that feeling of being burstingly alive under a high blue sky, grubby feet and mozzie bites and bindi eyes and all’.
An extremely emotive read, Gemmell skilfully conjures up a vivid picture of the Australian childhood of 30 years ago; a childhood my children don’t have today, for example, living in the inner city away from the beaches where I grew up. And, for the first half of the book I wonder whether Gemmell’s quest for home is actually locked in another era; in a time that has passed.
It’s not. As the book progresses, along with her time back in Australia, Gemmell writes less about the memories and instead observes how she and the children change as they surround themselves with the landscape, climate and extended family. ‘Facing home again, I have to confront what I’ve been running from for so long: myself.’
This memoir offers a fascinating insight for anyone living overseas with a growing family: ‘The situation’s so complicated if your children were born elsewhere. What accent will they have? Where exactly is home? For all of you?’ It’s a nostalgic read for those of us who experienced an Aussie childhood and a vicarious read if you have ever yearned to break away from your homeland and settle in a different country.
So, what’s the answer for a lifetime of contentment? Move countries? Never leave the country you were born in? Only stay away for short periods of time? I think Gemmell sums it up best: ‘Home. Such a loaded word.’
Stay tuned for a series of interviews I will be posting with people who have made different ‘homes’ all over the world.
Why you are Australian; a letter to my children
By Nikki Gemmell
Fourth Estate (An imprint of Harper Collins Publishers)