Whenever I speak, my accent betrays me. I am an Aussie, and despite more than 15 years living in the UK, I still speak like an Aussie.
I grew up in a small town in Queensland, and it didn’t seem very romantic to the teenage me. In fact, as the only teenager in town there was no romance of the hearts and flowers kind. There were only 11 buildings in my town. To get to school, I had to hop a bus early in the morning and ride more than twenty miles to the nearest town big enough to have a high school. When I say ‘big’ – that town had a population of around 7,000.
This place was no good for a teenager!
As a teenager I felt frustrated by living in such a place. There were no kids – specifically no boys – to spend my time with. No movie theatre. No coffee shop. No shops to browse. The town had a garage, a one teacher primary school, one store selling food and newspapers, a post office and a pub. Not a lot of fun for a teenager in that lot, although I did once ride my horse into the bar of the pub, which was fun for me if not for everyone else.
This was in the early seventies. There was no internet. No computers or video games. No DVD or home video players. We only had two television channels mostly showing old BBC programmes in grainy black and white. I was desperate to escape what I saw as nowhere-ville.
I do realise how much I appreciate where I lived
I did of course – via university and a career that has since taken me all around the world. But guess what? I went back. I don’t mean physically, although I do return regularly to visit family and friends. I mean in my heart I went back. They say you don’t appreciate something until you lose it. In this case, that’s right.
I have lived in the total opposite of my small Australian town – two years in Hong Kong and two years in New York City. These great cities taught me a lot about small outback towns.
One feels safe in a small town
In a small town, you are surrounded by people you know. In a big city, you’re surrounded by strangers every time you walk the street. I had and still have friends in those big cities, but the crush of people is so huge, almost every face you see every day is a stranger. In my small town, people were always there to help each other. It could be something as simple as a tow rope when a car gets bogged in the mud, or support for a loss in the family. As a young girl, I could walk the streets in total safety. The whole town was always looking out for me.
The houses are built on wooden stumps
On the black soil plains of Queensland, the houses are built on wooden stumps. This lets the cool air underneath and keeps out unwelcome guests like snakes and termites. But it’s also because the ground and the buildings tend to move during the wet season. No, not earthquakes, just expansion and contraction of everything as it dries out and them gets wet again.
As I was growing up, the movement of our wooden house meant it was never possible to close both the front and back doors at the same time. For thirteen years, we did not lock out house. Not once.
One of my Outback novels
It wasn’t until many years later that I realised how totally unique and amazing that was. I live in London now and totally love this fabulous city. The last time I went back to visit my old home town, the town had grown to about twenty buildings.
My experiences are shared with you in my novels
But the heart of it was still the same. I go back almost every day in my own heart – as I write my outback set novels. It’s my way of sharing this unique experience with everyone.