First published in Onya Magazine, on the 27th of November, 2009.
I will tell you, first up, that Why You Are Australian: A Letter To My Children is a very, very good book. It’s an easy read – because it’s so beautifully and clearly written. It’s also an uplifting read. A book for anyone who needs reminding of why being an Australian is such a wonderful thing.
Nikki Gemmell is no stranger to bookshelves. She is the author of five novels; The Bride Stripped Bare, Shiver, Cleave, Lovesong and The Book of Rapture, as well as non-fiction work Pleasure. She has been called the female Jack Kerouac in France, and the US describes her as one of the few truly original voices to emerge in a long time. In her home, Australia, she is considered one of the most engaging and unique authors of her generation.
Why You Are Australian is proof of the above. What I love most about the book is that it’s real. It’s the real story of a mother, and a family, and a country. It’s honest and moving.
As an expatriate living in crowded London for the past twelve years, Nikki begins to achingly miss Australia. She decides to leave London, for three months, and spend the summer at home – to give her children a slice of the Australian childhood she had. One filled with sun and surf and gumtrees and space and fresh air. Her children, despite all being born in England, all hold Australian citizenship over British. Nikki needs to explain why she chose that for them. And she needs to show them why.
‘I want you to know what it is to be Aussie kids. Where playing barefoot is a signifier of freedom not impoverishment. Where a backyard’s a given not a luxury. Where sunshine and fresh food grow children tall. Where you know what a rash shirt is and a nipper, a Paddle Pop and a Boogie Board.’
Incredibly heartfelt and warm, the book is a pleasure to read. And it evoked so many memories of my own childhood. Every now and again it borders on repetitive, but not in an annoying manner – more as a construct to constantly remind the reader that some facets of Australian life are so important they must be repeated.
Whether Nikki decides that the Australia she remembers upon leaving, and the Australia as she sees it now is still the same, I will leave you to discover. And I will not spoil whether she, along with her husband, decide to leave London for good. What I will say, and now I’m repeating myself, is that Why You Are Australian: A Letter To My Children is a very, very good book.