Once upon a time my family owned a house on a block of land in Anglesea, on the southern Victorian coast. We spent most school holidays there, the long holidays over the summer, when we’d swim and bushwalk and sometimes sail the dinghy my father built – if I remember correctly – with help from my brother, no doubt, once I’d been bitten by the Swallows and Amazons bug. How fervently I wanted to be Nancy. But that’s another story. What I’m thinking about now is the September holidays, one or two weeks, early spring, and how the sloping block of land would be dotted with freesias, in amongst the fallen gum leaves and twigs and scrub. The sweet aroma of freesias and the peppery, dusty scent of eucalypts. The freesias’ spindly green stems and mostly white trumpets standing out against the dun earth. Arriving to find the freesias, which we had not planted, had bloomed again, felt like a small miracle. The scent of freesias stirs this memory, a good memory, and I’m sure I loved the word, which sounded exotic, and being able to spell it. Freesias are not native to Australia, but they flourished there, on that block of land my family no longer owns. Last weekend I bought a bunch of freesias from the supermarket. On Wednesday night I listened to Free Thinking on Radio 3, a special programme on Australian culture, featuring Germaine Greer and Christos Tsiolkas in impassioned conversation, and an interview with Pat Dodson, an Aboriginal leader and activist; and the freesias spilled their scent into my London living room. So it’s a story about class and privilege, though I did not know it at the time, and invasion, loss of language, attachment to land; the complex, multicultural place where I grew up and that still defines me in many ways. And whether, in my writing, I am brave enough to engage with that history. I’m looking forward to reading Tsiolkas’s latest novel, Barracuda. He is not afraid to try.

freesias and Ark Awakening © John Boydell Rogers
freesias and Ark Awakening © John Boydell Rogers

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