Tuesday, January 27, 2009

On Australia Day

Today is Australia Day, 26 January 2009. It’s also, and more importantly, my mother’s birthday. Happy birthday, mum.

So in honour of both auspicious occasions, here are three things I love about my mother.

1. My mother is a creative spark. She is the best knitter I know – mum can sit in front of the television and carry on a conversation while her fingers fly without stopping. I usually ask for a jumper or cardigan for my birthday present … because that way, I get to choose the pattern and colour of the wool, and I love it all the more because my mother’s made it. She also has an astonishing colour memory, which I’m lucky enough to have inherited from her, and a love of textiles which I’ve also developed. My mum has really helped to shape who I am today.

2. My mother is very sensible and practical. Mum is very down to earth and does not stand on ceremony. She taught me the value of appreciating the things you have, rather than longing for the things you don’t. It’s because of my mother that I love to have people round for the simplest of dinners – spaghetti bolognese, or a barbeque, and don’t worry about cooking up a feast of perfection. Mum taught me to be honest – and cynical! – and to see what is at the heart of a matter rather than what surrounds it.

3. My mother has a kind heart. I’ll never forget the way my mother cried after Pickles, one of her apricot poodles, was killed by a car. As I wrote in my childish handwriting in a diary at the time: “there is mourning all around our house”. Mum raised poddy lambs, saved broken birds, spent hundreds of dollars on sick cats and dogs, rescued strays, and showed me that despite her stiff-upper-lip exterior, her emotions run deep. It’s quite something to see my mother cooing over a small animal. She taught me that kindness to animals is truly kindness of the soul.

And now here are three things I love about Australia.

1. Waking up to the sound of a magpie. Let’s be clear. I am not fond of magpies per se. As a kid I was bombed in a terrifying and relentless attack which so scarred me that to this day I am cautious around magpies and their little orange eyes and their sharp and pointy beaks. Magpies are not kind-looking birds. They do not have the cheerful elegance of finches, nor the breath-taking plumage of peacocks, nor the haughty elegance of flamingos or the cheeky flappiness of penguins. Magpies are mean-looking birds. But there’s nothing like waking up to the melodic sounds of their warbling: cordle-ordle-wurble-doodle. Durdle-orble-wardle-oodle. I absolutely love it.

2. The rural countryside. The harsh beauty of Australia’s countryside is a little-appreciated thing. I’m not talking about the romance of the “outback” or the magnificent red sands of the desert. What I’m talking about is the ordinary beauty of the back road out of a small town, where gums line the roadway and beyond them are huge rolling paddocks burnt a pale shade of honey in the hard sun. The still and rusted windmill guarding an empty dam, its walls cracked from heat but still hoping for rain. The dust cloud streaming out in the distance, as a farmer bashes his ute across an unsealed road through the canola fields, which are as yellow as buttercups and waving in the breeze, and topped with an endless blue sky like an upside down bowl.

3. Our weather. I moan about it, but really you can’t fault the weather in Australia. When it’s hot, it’s not so hot that you can’t go outside without collapsing, like in Dubai. And when it’s cold, it’s not so cold that your breath freezes on the end of your nose, like in Europe and America. But when the days are 28 degrees and there’s no wind blowing, just a gentle breeze, and the sun is warm, and the pusses are stretched out and snoozing in the grass, that’s just about perfect.

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