Come play inside a writer's brain, scary!

Sometime between the stone age and the getting-stoned age of the 60s, my family got off the ship, Fairstar, legs wobbly after six weeks sailing from England, and took a look at our new country. I was with my parents, Arthur and Elizabeth Newsum, older sister Maureen and baby sister, Leigh in very English coats with velvet collars and Mary Jane shoes we’d soon swap for shorts t-shirts and thongs. Well maybe not thongs. I suspect English toes separate in the wrong places for thongs.

Our parents had about ten pounds ($20 today) to their name. No home. No jobs. I was grown up before I understood how terrifying that must have been. Three kids and no idea what the future held.

When you're new, it can take a while to fit in.

When you’re new, it can take a while to fit in.

In England Dad had sold insurance door to door. He tried that here but the doors were simply too far apart. He trained with Fosseys as a store manager, his work taking us to alien places called Grenfell and Orange where the spiders were bigger than we were.

If you’d told me that years later I’d return to Grenfell as their Australia Day Ambassador, having sold 29 million of my books worldwide, or that Maureen would have an OAM for her work with kids who have cancer, I’d have told you to pull the other one. But in Australia anything’s possible. Migrants can go from zero to hero in a blink. You don’t need to be born rich or special. You might even end up running the country. Ask Julia Gillard.

Our old house in Grenfell had burned down. Now where do we put the plaque? The upside was meeting people who remembered our family, including a boy mum had earmarked as husband material for me. Gay had a different meaning then.

This year I’m Australia Day Ambassador to Bathurst where I’ll give the Australia Day address, thank our indigenous people for letting us share their land, present awards and tell the community what we already know: despite heatwaves, droughts, flooding rains and even giant spiders, this is still the best country on earth.

On my first trip back to England as an adult, my mother asked if I held it against her for bringing us here. Are you kidding? True, I burst into tears when the plane landed at Heathrow. But that was only my DNA catching me in unexpected ways. The real sense of belonging hit me when we flew into Mascot after dark and the cabin lights were dimmed so we could enjoy the carpet of light unfolding beneath our wings. That was home.

I was the first Australian citizen in our family, unless you count my late husband who became Aussified, as he called it, in Darwin in the 50s in between crocodile hunting expeditions. I’ve been everywhere from Thursday Island to Kakadu, across the Nullarbor and to Cradle Mountain in Tassie. Purely as research for my books of course. I never tire of exploring Australia and sharing her wonders with my readers around the world. Her beauty and her terrors, she’s my wide brown land now.

Do you read or write about Australian backgrounds? Where is home to you?



on Twitter @ValerieParv and Facebook

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A version of this article was first published in The Hoopla online, January 2012.

Comments on: "A writer? No, an Australian writer" (10)

  1. I love reading Australian backgrounds. I’m Aussie born and bred, with one grandmother who can be traced back to some vague (very vague) connection to John Macarthur, the man who kick-started Australia’s wool industry. But I also have three English grandparents, so the pull to the UK is strong. When I travelled through Lancashire a couple of years ago I could ‘hear’ Grandma and Grandad, and it gave me a nice feeling of familiarity. But I’m easily pleased: give me home or abroad and I’ll enjoy it. However, I do love books set in my city, Sydney. I love the jolt of recognition when I realize I’ve been to the exact spot the author is describing.

    • Hi Malvina, Lancashire isn’t far from my father’s home county of Derbyshire. They would have had similar accents. I love Sydney, too, though I’m now in regional NSW and enjoying that. I’ve set lots of books in Sydney and just as many in far parts of the country. I think we’re lucky to have such a brilliant choice in flying distance.

  2. The ‘Fairstar’! We travelled on her when we returned to Oz when I was a kid. My parents came out after the war with my two older sisters. Dad, who had been in the RN for 20 years, couldn’t get work on land when he was de-mobbed – men returning from the war took back their old jobs so Dad took the ten pound passage and brought his young family to Australia. They were headed for Bundaberg but ended up in Toowoomba where many years later I was born. Mum was homesick for family and England, so we sold up and moved back, briefly. My parents discovered that, in the intervening years, Australia had become home. One day, some of their story may well become part of one of my books.

    Thanks for sharing, Valerie.

    • Good that you can preserve your family stories in your fiction, Susanne. We knew families who couldn’t settle and went back, but the thought never crossed our minds. I’m grateful for that.

  3. Judy Neumann said:

    I have developed a split personality between Oz and Yank – and my stories reflect that. Does that mean I have a commitment problem?

    • I don’t think you have, Judy. It’s great to embrace more than one country and culture and enjoy the best of both. Think how many writing and character creating options it gives us.

  4. Aussie! Aussie! Aussie!
    I love that spy picture, Valerie, what a hoot. 🙂
    Well, I’m glad your mum and dad brought you all Downunder. I don’t necessarily like my stories set in Australia, but I do love them with an Aussie flavour. Maybe with an Australian hero or heroine using the Aussie spirit to help overcome obstacles.
    I’m afraid I’m a diehard romantic, home will always be wherever my husband is. Second would definitely be Australia.

  5. What memories. I came to Australia on the Fairstar and I’m an author of romance too.
    I was born in London.
    This is the best place in the world. I’m proud to be an Australian.
    I married a bronze Aussie life saver….ah now that’s another story 🙂

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