Every Northern Hemisphere winter, I’d dream of the tall Aussie light that was in my blood and bones, singing me home. Over 14 years of London living, the craving for the blare of an Australian summer only intensified as the cold closed over us; for that sliver of hard light stealing like a cat through curtains in the morning that was so different from England, our land of no shadows.
The greatest gift of all: a summer back home in the sun-scoured light. I’d walk out of an Aussie airport and squint in the hurting light, feeling a little taller and lighter as my spine unfolded and my back became unhunched. The promise of gardenias and frangipanis was nestled among the eucalyptus and sea salt and I’d stop and smell deep that siren lure of an Australian summer, of full-throttled light.
The sunscreen and Nippers gear were quickly purchased; new boardies and rashies for little bodies ready to be honeyed up – or not. Then there was the long surrender into lazy days of heat, into fat sleeps with just a sheet upon you that smelt of sunlight and fresh air. There was the long surrender into cricket on the box and singlets and shorts, into sausages spitting on barbies then wrapped in a lick of white bread and the briny swirl of the sea in the oyster shell alongside a cold tinnie or crisp white.
As an exile briefly returning, I drank those summers up. All the childhood wonder that still existed. The wince-dance on asphalt. Bindis sneaky in grass. Flies lazy in eyes. The march of ant lines in cupboards. Seagulls at the chips. The whine of the blasted mozzie – slap! Greedy waves tumbling you again and again and mouthfuls of spitty surf. Learning to tame the ocean with a sturdy back against the water’s great wall of bash; bobbing blissfully in the swell; zooming in to land triumphant on the boogie board.
For a life slowed to a different pace, I’d head out bush. To heat like muslin stretched across the sky. To a corrugated iron church stoic in its loneliness. To desiccated trees pockmarking paddocks like a battalion of ghostly windmills. To a distant congregation of birds lifting like clouds from the trees. To bush dogs curling like commas in the grass. To dams dried to petals of stiff cream at the edges; frail stepping stones that collapsed into powder underfoot. To wisteria tumbling like a waterfall from rusting corrugated iron sheds. And at sunset, the sun dropping from clouds in great shafts of light like tent ropes from God in a vast biblical sky, as much in the city as out bush.
Yet what do I love more than any of this? Petrichor. That beautiful word developed by our CSIRO, which means the smell of the parched earth opening up to receive longed-for rain. Breathe deep, at all of summer’s promise, in the land where the light roars.
The Wollongong-born author, who writes a weekly column for The Weekend Australian Magazine, has penned more than 15 books, both fiction and non-fiction. Her next novel, The Ripping Tree, is due out in September.