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.
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
Read some reviews of Birthright at http://www.valerieparv.com/birthright.html
A version of this article was first published in The Hoopla online, January 2012.