Monday, November 16, 2009

Thank you Nikki Gemmell....

I've just finished reading Nikki Gemmell's gloriously moving book, Why You Are Australian: A Letter to my Children. It holds particular resonance for me as I too am an expat mum, caught between two worlds, wondering which is best for my beloved three children.

Nikki is an Aussie, who, after 12 years in England, decides to follow her heart back home to her land of light and sun, where she spends three delicious summer months watching her kids unfurl and flourish in the heat and the great outdoors. She paints a fond, yet bleak picture of the London she has left behind, confessing that it has never held her heart in the way her homeland has always done.

I am the opposite. My heart is in England, despite its grey skies, its overburdened, diminishing countryside, and its emotional insularity. I miss the rich historical heritage, the incredible variety of culture, the intellectual climate and elegance and eccentricity of the people. My homesickness crashes over me at times, disorientating me and hurling me off balance. Yet, I am not convinced England would offer my children a better life, certainly not while they're young. And Nikki's book, written directly from the pure, deep love of a mother, has given me a fresh perspective on this land, and the potential it holds for my family. She has renewed my focus, refreshed my gaze, reminded me why I left the relentless concrete, the nerve-shattering violence and the sheer, unsustainable expense of London for this wide open country where nature abounds and where big weatherboard houses with generous gardens are more than affordable, if you know where to look. Where I don't feel threatened in parks, streets, or my own home. Where the cost of a decent living doesn't cripple me. And where wild places expand out across the horizon.

So today I am feeling inspired all over again about my life in Australia. And it's on a grander scale than the inspiration that's been rippling up with our imminent move to Tasmania. This is an ambitious inspiration, a big, bold, wide inspiration that is feeding on everything from Arnhem Land to Sydney to Nikki's beloved Lake McQuarrie and beyond.

Yes, I may well decide to head home one day, and do what Nikki did. I can absolutely see us renting a cottage in Dorset and seeing how we all fit into the disappearing English idyll. That heart-pull Nikki describes so poignantly is one I need to negotiate in my own time. But as someone reminded me recently (thank you Josephine...) you find reflections of yourself wherever you go.

My children's heritage is English, American and Australian, they are children of the world, and one day they will find their own way in it. But for now their foundation is in my hands, and if I can give them a free and protected space while they are small that foundation will be strong. Hopefully, home is where children flourish, and for now, from what I can see every day, beneath this bright light and these strong stars, for my children, that is here, in Australia. Thank you Nikki Gemmell, for offering me such a fresh look.


  1. I nearly had tears reading this. Nikki is a great writer and I love her books. I adore all her writing about her children because she writes so beautifully and clearly about motherhood. I can't wait to read this book. On a smaller scale than yours, Clare I have this feeling about Tasmania versus Sydney a lot. Genetically, I am part of the landscape of Tasmania but due to work have to live in the heart of Sydney. All the things I originally left Tasmania for have become far more attractive as I matured. I can certainly understand your yearning for England. It is a beautiful place and I would never want to leave it! Although I could never imagine living in London as that's too frenetic for me. Great review and thank you for mentioning me! xx

  2. Hi Clara,
    It was lovely to receive your comment after your visit to my blog.
    I'm so excited for you and your forthcoming move to the Huon Valley.
    We live on the hill at Kingston Beach, not so far away.
    I will definitely be keeping in touch with you here on your blog, and can somewhat relate. We moved here in December 2004. My husband is English and I'm originally from Darwin in the Northern Territory. BUT love it here. I cannot stand the heat.
    A few Markets to keep an eye out when you arrive are: The Market (Sandy Bay), Handmade Hobart (Hobart), The Beach Market (Blackmans Bay), The Mothers Market (Battery Point).
    Tasmania is truly a gem of a place.
    xo, K.

  3. Hi - I can't find your email right off and just wanted to let you know that I've got one of the original etchings of This Cold Heart on etsy right now. But I still plan to have less expensive reproduction prints made as well! xox