Kim Kelly

Australian Author

Month: January, 2014

Ooooeee, it’s hot in the Central West today. Whinger that I am, though, something in my DNA loves a heatwave. I feel robbed if I don’t get at least one serve of Hades’ breath per summer.

As I strip off to singlet and sarong, I wonder how my Irish and German ancestors felt stepping off the ship in the 1800s in all their heavy gear and many skirts. Imagine that first scorcher and how they must have despaired: ‘What have we done coming to this small corner of Hell?’

This is what Charles Darwin thought when he stopped off here in New South Wales during his voyage on The Beagle in 1836, arriving in midsummer, and in the midst of a drought:

We experienced this day the sirocco-like wind of Australia, which comes from the parched deserts of the interior. Clouds of dust were travelling in every direction; and the wind felt as if it had passed over a fire. I afterwards heard that the thermometer out of doors had stood at 119 degs., and in a closed room at 96 degs. In the afternoon we came in view of the downs of Bathurst. These undulating but nearly smooth plains are very remarkable in this country, from being absolutely destitute of trees. They support only a thin brown pasture…

You can almost feel his longing for a quenching ale as he traipses along on horseback. Darwin’s is one of my favourite early descriptions of this country and well worth a read, especially for the weariness that seems to come through his writing as he travels further west. He finds much of interest, but very little beauty, which always seems strange to me. Somehow my understanding of beauty has been shaped by being, so many generations on, born of Australia and nowhere else, too.

I don’t know how place works its way into your soul, but it does. Rolling fields of golden, parched grass and trees sparsely dotting the land to the horizon make some kind of awesome beauty for me. Or one of its many faces here. The photograph above is a snap I took of thirsty pasture at Wellington, between Orange and Dubbo. And oooeee, did I tell you it’s hot today?

australia day

hills hoist

I love Australia. I’m very grateful I was born here in this free and peaceful and beautiful place. I have no other home anyway.

If I have one wish for this Australia Day it is that we will strive to work harder at compassion and generosity. A fair go for all Australians and for those who wash up on our shores in need of a helping hand. A fair go for this tough but fragile land.

The fair go is, after all, a foundation stone of our culture. Let’s revive it as the centerpiece of who we are. Let’s put respect and kindness ahead of all other concerns. Let’s be passionately good to one another and to the country in our care.

Then we can be truly proud.

Doing it with style

photo

My grandmother Ivy Swivel, or Ivy Mellish as she was known before marriage swept her off her maryjanes and into an entirely unsuitable betetherment to a handsome surfer who didn’t deserve her, was a woman who did her own thing. Always. Often infuriatingly.

She was and remains the butt of many a family joke. If any of us feels we’re at odds with the world or teetering towards hysteria, we cry, ‘It’s Nana’s fault!’

Self-taught and self-wrought milliner, couturier, Conservatorium-trained opera singer and painter of abstract nudes, she set us an example of how to go forth in that crash and burn way of total disregard for others’ opinions. She could wear the most outlandish hat, say the most awful thing, or turn up to Christmas dinner bedecked from head to toe in what appeared to be wrapping paper, and demand to be taken seriously. Woe betide the fool who didn’t. And I wish I had inherited a little more of that gene.

But affectionate ridicule aside, she was also a woman unable to fulfill her ambitions largely because of the times she lived in. Exuberantly colourful and obnoxious gals were not to be seen or heard in 1930s Sydney, or in the 40s, or in the 50s, and so her attempts at business failed. I imagine those disappointments in no small way fed the fabulous flaws that would become her eccentricities.

She certainly fed me many an appalling meal as a child. A cook she was not. A homemaker she was not, unless you count her flair for turning her tiny flat into an installation collage so whacked she might well have given the German expressionists a run for their money if she’d made it to Berlin.

But she was my Nana. Nana of Coogee. Rather beloved. Champion quoits player and inventor of the after dinner game of golf whereby pieces of paper napkin are rolled into balls and randomly potted into wineglasses around the table. A boredom-killer. Soprano laugher. And my about-to-be-published novel, The Blue Mile, is dedicated to her, as well as to my other grandmother, Nin. Now, she was an entirely different kettle of gal, but no less a woman of style, and I’ll tell you all about her another day.