Nikki Gem­mell

Qantas - - CONTENTS - Il­lus­tra­tion by CRONULLA FOLK

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.

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