You were born into a sunburnt country.
One day the Queen visited your school and swept in briefly to greet all of the children on the footy oval. The kids sat in a straight line, polite and cross-legged, with backs rod straight in attention, marinating in the heat.
On the footy oval the Queen raised her tiny hand in a stiff wave, economised for the temperature. From a distance her tiny hand looked plastic like a Barbie’s.
The open space of the oval was ablaze with waves of heat moving like ancient spirits that stung the retinas of all who looked on. The Queen was followed by a flotilla of handlers. They sashayed around her like anxious geese or modern day jesters, to ensure her a modest amount of comfort in this god foresaken place.
The Queen’s presence was patient and benign and all of the children sat with their sun bleached hair, freckled skin and snotty noses. Someone did a silent but deadly fart. The teacher crouched down amongst them whispering venomously ‘Who made that upsetting smell right now?’ A tittering of muffled laughter among the five-year-olds. Their sense of self-restraint already pushed to bursting point. The teachers had an ally though. Everyone far too hot to move or become too naughty.
As the Queen surveyed her loyal subjects and her domain (the oval at Ballam Park, a tiny and putridly hot backwater of the British kingdom) you tried to tune in to her inner most thoughts by way of willpower. What was she thinking right now, you wondered, of all of us?
The children on cue, piped up with ‘Give me a home among the gum trees’ along with John Williamson’s song pumped out of an old crackling PA. The children lifted their arms and emitted wafts of sweet smelling sunscreen and baked hair and skin. They mimed along with forced gusto:
“Give me a home among the gumtrees
With lots of plum trees
A sheep or two, a kangaroo
A clothesline out the back
Veranda out the front
And an old rocking chair”
The action and the words together and the Queen’s rapturous focus made all of the teachers and students incredibly nervous. Indeed the critical eyes of the world were on this little classroom group right now.
You felt incredibly exposed in this moment and singled out for the scrutiny from Her Majesty. You in your deep olive skin and dark and wild curly hair even then you felt like an imposter. You – the counterpoint to all of the lily-white , freckly-faced children of Irish settlers and surfers. Everyone wearing the ridiculous corked hats in a show of camraderie to billy-can toting bushrangers of the outback and cattle runs. Apparently, you realised – these people wearing these hats subsisted far back in ancient time, in some place far away. Yet the hat wearing was symbolic of being from here and we all knew that.
These people in their hats and the hot outback places, you secretly knew, bore no real, deep relationship to you. They were symbols though, of what it meant to be from a sunburnt country. And like a foraging hunter you collected them, held them up to the light checking for authenticity. Held them close to your heart. These special treasures – like geodesic crystals and flowering hydrangeas in rainbow shades.
These symbols gave you permission, gave you the right to feel included in something, a narrative and a story – echoed from some long forgotten dream. Still the song remained half sung and half believed by you. Always….there was a calling to discover more.