Di Mor­ris­sey

The tug of home can strike at odd times, even when you’re a world away, writes this pro­lific, well-trav­elled au­thor.

Australian House & Garden - - News - By Di Mor­ris­sey

Home at last

Iwas born in Wing­ham, a coun­try town on the mid north coast of NSW. Dairy coun­try. Cows, green hills and the mighty Man­ning River. A township peo­pled by Scots and Brits, built along the lines of an English town square, with a vil­lage green and cricket pitch faced by stately English-style stone and tra­di­tional Aussie build­ings, as well as coun­try pubs with Cobb & Co sta­bles, which the lo­cal coun­cil con­tin­ues to rip down, de­spite laud­ing Wing­ham as the Her­itage Town.

My grand­fa­ther set­tled in Wing­ham in 1922, when he wed his English rose and child­hood pal Louisa. He built a home near the pic­turesque rail­way sta­tion and named it Crick­le­wood, af­ter their Lon­don home. My mother, Grace, was their first child and lived there un­til she mar­ried. Af­ter I was born, the war took its toll on the re­la­tion­ship and she re­turned to live with my grand­par­ents, be­fore tak­ing a job some dis­tance away and leav­ing me in their care. And so my first mem­o­ries are of that cosy Fed­er­a­tion house and the sta­tion’s mag­nif­i­cent ma­hogany goods shed, where my grand­fa­ther worked.

At odd times in strange coun­tries I’ll re­call mak­ing daisy chains on the front lawn sur­rounded by Nana’s beau­ti­ful roses, all named for roy­als. I’ll re­mem­ber my swing on the old gum in the back gar­den, the step­ping stones to the dunny and, be­yond the enor­mous chook pen, past the mul­berry and the jacaranda trees, Poppy’s old shed, a store­house of rust­ing Arnott’s bis­cuit tins, tools and mem­o­ra­bilia. Fam­ily events were noted in paint on the heavy wooden plank walls.

The for­mal front ve­ran­dah, where all our fam­ily pho­to­graphs were taken, faced a dead-end dirt road where the milk­man came at dawn, his horse know­ing to stop out­side each house, where a pail, bot­tle or bil­ly­can waited to be filled with warm, creamy milk. By our front door gleamed the plaque, Crick­le­wood, Brasso-ed to within an inch of its life each week. It’s still there, as is the house.

I was five when Mum moved us to Pittwa­ter in Syd­ney. But ev­ery school hol­i­day, and later when I worked as a cadet jour­nal­ist, I took the train ‘home’ to Wing­ham for a visit. Poppy would be wait­ing for me at the sta­tion; link­ing arms, he’d walk me across the road to Crick­le­wood, where tea would be brew­ing un­der Nana’s knit­ted cosy.

Like ev­ery­one in our fam­ily, when I was old enough I took off over­seas to see what was ‘on the other side of the moun­tain’, as my Boy Scout un­cles sang. But I was a long time re­turn­ing.

I lived in many coun­tries as a jour­nal­ist, then as a diplo­mat’s wife, where we moved coun­try ev­ery two years. Within a week I could make any place ‘home’ with what I had al­ways known and loved – books! Other cher­ished items also helped: a pic­ture painted by my Un­cle Ron, my mother’s needle­point cush­ion, Nana’s tea cosy, a fam­ily pho­to­graph or two and Un­cle Jim’s stack of blue air­mail let­ters, filled with scrawled wis­dom and hu­mour, sent from his far-off posts as a for­eign cor­re­spon­dent.

It’s a place where my mind re­laxes, where I have warm mem­o­ries of peo­ple and can feel, taste and smell the past.

My own life took its twists and turns un­til I made the de­ci­sion to try what I’d al­ways dreamed of do­ing when sat on Crick le wood’ sback­ver and ah, thump­ing away on Poppy’ s Un­der­wood #1 type­writer: write books.

My vis­its to ex­otic, won­der­ful and dan­ger­ous places pro­vided a lot of ma­te­rial. And ev­ery decade or so, there would be what my dear friend Tom Ken eal­lyc all sa“hum­ble ori­gin tour”, with my fam­ily and vis­it­ing rel­lies tak­ing the rit­ual de­tour through Wing­ham, be­ing pho­tographed out­side Crick­le­wood and do­ing a quick spin of the town.

Then, 10 years ago, I was in­vited to re­turn and make a speech. My part­ner, dear Boris, came along. At that point we’d spent 20 years liv­ing in By­ron Bay. Boris fol­lowed me, dawdling at each stop on the visit. Fi­nally, fling­ing open his arms to em­brace the river, green hills and flood plains, see­ing the tran­quil­lity and nos­tal­gia I’ d evoked, he de­manded, “Why aren’t we liv­ing here?”

So here we are. I walk with friendly ghosts. I see my mother and aunt and un­cles as schoolkids at Wing­ham Brush School. I see Nana in her gloves and hat, walk­ing to town over the wooden bridge with its loose plank.

Sadly, the old goods shed was pulled down, then the quaint rail­way sta­tion trans­formed into an un­manned brick-dunny af­fair, all its magic erased. ‘Progress’ con­tin­ues apace as won­der­ful her­itage build­ings – the old homes of lat­tice and wrought-iron lace, which are em­i­nently ren­o­vat­able – be­come ugly blocks of flats.

Yet here is where I stay. The feel­ing of be­ing ‘at home’ can’t be bought; it’s not a mat­ter of ‘things’. It’s a place where my mind re­laxes, where I have warm mem­o­ries of peo­ple and can feel, taste and smell the past.

I’ve seen the other side of the moun­tain, and I know that what re­mains of this quaint town, which holds my first mem­o­ries, is the place I’ll al­ways call home.

Di Mor­ris­sey is a jour­nal­ist turned nov­el­ist who pro­duced her first work of fic­tion in the early 1990s. She is now one of Aus­tralia’s big­gest-sell­ing fic­tion writ­ers and one of the most pro­lific, with 24 best­selling nov­els and four chil­dren’s books pub­lished. She has just re­leased her 25th book, The Red

Coast ($34.99, Pan Macmil­lan) set in Broome and the Kim­ber­ley coast. In 2017, Di was in­ducted into the Aus­tralian Book In­dus­try Awards Hall of Fame with the Lloyd O’Neil Award.

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