1 May 2011

We Live In Australia

What is it like to live in Australia? Is it a country of urban sprawl, of great coffee shops and restaurants, sophisticated shopping, marvellous galleries and world class culture, or one of huge open wheat farms, or one of miles and miles of uninhabited beaches and perfect surf breaks, or one of green rolling hills dotted with sheep, or one of snowy mountains and alpine flowers, or one of vast stony desserts and Aboriginal art? What is your Australia?

My family's Australia is the Australia of broad acre farming, of wide rolling wheat and barley paddocks, of sheep and cattle and goats, of droughts...and of flooding rain. It is an Australia where kangaroos are kept as pets and we are woken by kookaburras in the mornings.

Tim and Sally live in our Australia. They live at "Cardoola", where sheep lie in mobs under the trees. Their Australia is one of sheep dips, fencing, feeding poddy lambs, crutching, ear marking, shearing and lambing.
When the first lambs arrived the Easter moon was full in the sky and the air was fresh and cool. The waterhole had a glassy look in the moonlight, and a mopoke was a dark lump on a tree before it flapped off on its evening haunt.

As lambing advanced Mr Horne and his men worked late and early, coming back to the homestead after dark, going out before first light to see if all was well. Snug in bed, Tim sometimes heard them leave to inspect the lambs born in the night...
This is Tim and Sally's shearing shed. This is their Australia, as it is ours.

My friend, Rebecca's Australia is further north than mine. Her family's Australia is one of lazy hot summer days, of tidy grape blocks, fragrant orange orchards, and fishing in their river.

Alan lives in Rebecca's Australia. His father grows sultanas in his vineyard. Together Alan his dad fish for redfin, perch, yellowbelly and Murray Cod from the sandbanks along the river, or around the trunks of the giant red gums. In winter Alan helps his dad prune the vines. Later in spring he winds the young vine trailers into place on the wires...and worries about frost.
On clear still nights when glittering galaxies gemmed the riverland sky, vine growers stood ready for the summons that would send them out to fight the crop's Number One enemy, Frost. Each member of the Frost Club was rostered for duty.
This is Alan's grape block in February. The pickers have moved in to gather the harvest of green grapes hanging pale and translucent under the deeper green of the vine leaves. This is Alan's Australia, as it is Rebecca's.

Sarah's family live on the coast. Hers is the Australia of beautiful white sandy beaches, of surfing and swimming and fishing and days lazing on the sand. Hers is a beautiful Australia of shimmering lakes and pristine forests and amazing bird life.

Karl lives in Sarah's Australia. Karl's brother Josef belongs to the Surf Life-Saving Club where he takes part in rescues with belt and reel. Karl is learning to surf and to swim. Karl also loves the forest. He loves to hike through the bush, where bellbirds call and the blue satin bower bird builds its stage. Almost every day Karl goes to the creek with his friends.
In summer they splashed and played in the water, or lay on the bank to watch a water-beetle climb carefully up a bulrush, or see a dragon-fly dart suddenly on a tiny gnat. In winter there were wonderful hiding places along the banks, and in all seasons there were tiddlers for the catching in the tiny stream.
This is Karl's Australia, as it is Sarah's. Can't you just imagine Sarah's son joining Karl in his adventures? I can.

Which is the real Australia? Is it Ruby's life in Rockhampton, or Renelle's in the Hunter Valley, or Ganeida's on her island, or Joyfulmum's in Sydney?

Is mine the real Australia?

They all are of course. We are all Australians, and we all live in Australia. Our own Australia. What a huge and wonderfully diverse land it is, this island continent of ours.

How amazing it is then to discover a book that describes to accurately so many of these Australias - the Australia of our Indigenous peoples; the Australia of the city dwellers; the Australia of the immigrants; The Australia of the farmers; the Australia of the sea.

The Live in Australia is a book that describes the vast stony desserts, the tropics of the north, the broad sandy beaches, the lush forests, the snowy mountains. It describes drought and flood and fire and snow and frost and monsoonal rains.

More excitingly, it does all this in a book that children like to read. Written by Eve Pownall, the author of the 1952 Children's Book of the Year, The Australia Story, a writer who excelled in writing history for Aussie kids, it is also illustrated by the prodigious Walter Cunningham, without whom early children's literature in Australia would have been far less noteworthy than it is.

We are using They Live in Australia this year in AO4 for Australian Geography. We read the story, Jemimah narrates, we discuss what has changed in the region since the book was written in 1965, mark the location of the story on our Australia map, google a few pics of the region in 2011 and that's it. Except that with a book like this we rarely stop there. One week we went on to learn more about the moonscape around Tasmania's Queenstown; another we studying improved methods for protecting grape crops from frost damage; another week we looked more into the Snowy Mountain Scheme, and another we travelled down the rabbit trail of immigration and what has gone into making up our wonderfully vibrant migrant population.

I can't recommend this book enough. It's a ripper.

What's your Australia like? Have I spoken about it here? What makes it unique? Tell us about your home.

If you live overseas, do tell us what you imagine Australia to be like...what is our great wide land like to you?


  1. Advance Australia Fair!

  2. For some reason I don't always get the follow up comments from your blog Jeanne.

  3. As a kid, I saw the Disney series Five Mile Creek. That and the Man From Snowy River shaped my early ideas of Australia. Jeanne, what book(s) would you recommend for me to read to my 5yr old for her to learn a bit about Australia? It can be either picture or a little longer of a read.

  4. Thanks for the book review! xxx

  5. lol I didn't realise how different *our Australia* was until my kids threw a mickey fit in the back seat as we drove past the airport on our first vist to my folks in their new home. I then realised my kids had never seen a plane with wheels. All planes came with skids & landed on the water!!! It was an eye~opening moment ~ problem since rectified!

  6. I laughed out loud at this review. See , here in the States oranges are grown in groves not orchards. My in laws live right next to one. Coming from the North where there are apple orchards to the South where they are orange groves. On the way to meet my future in laws for the first time, I remarked about the orange orchard. My soon to be husband laughed out loud and corrected me. He still , 18 years later, teases me about when we go to see him mom. :)

    I am so envious of the Australia where you have kangaroos as pets and wake up to kookaburras. I will have to come visit.

  7. Thanks Jeanne,
    Great review.
    I have that book, so good to know I'm getting organised for AO4.
    I had a look at the chapter on Melbourne, its still recognisable but so much larger. Similar issues though, 'each year the town grows larger and more farms disappear'

  8. :D I do love Australia!
    And I'm really starting to appreciate *my* Australia: big blue sky, red earth, grapevines (we picked up some beautiful red autumn vine leaves on our walk this morning), the billabongs (amazing birdlife right now with the high water), houseboats on the river... it's a great place.

  9. Thanks for the recommendation Jeanne! I value your opinion highly so will be adding this to our list as well:)
    I LOVE Australia:)

  10. Most would say that I don't live in the real Australia because I live in Canberra. But sadly we are very much mis-understood as it is a lovely place to live:) We have rolling hills and forests, snow on the mountain tops in winter and beautiful autumns.

  11. Looks wonderful. FYI, I just finished "A Town Like Alice" now I'm waiting for the miniseries to arrive--I didn't watch it all those years ago when it was on tv. I enjoyed the book a lot, but figure a lot of the language used to describe the native Australians must be un-PC now. Very vivid story though!

  12. I second joyfulmum's comment, thanks! I'll have to look for this book now.

    My Australia isn't so much the here and now place where I live, but the mental image I carry. Memories of the vast Hay plains, rocky paddocks around the Snowy Mountains, the wilderness of Barrington Tops, country roads winding through cave-filled mountains. I love the intense colours of red-soil farm lands and the coastal cliffs of the Illawarra and Great Ocean Road.

  13. What a fun book review. I knew it was wishful thinking that our library here in the USA would have the book, but I checked anyway. They don't have it.

    Your posts prompts me to ask my kids to write about "their NYC" which is quite different than other people's NYC and certainly from tourists' NYC, even if we are in the same place.

  14. My Australia is beaches of golden sand and ice blue waves. It's rainforest and hills of north-east facing bananas. It's warm enough in winter to wander in tshirt and shorts, and cold enough in winter to long for spring. My Australia is country enough to have drivers wave and say g'day, and pedestrians smile and say g'day, but sadly city enough that we lock our doors. My Australia is magpies carolling, kookaburras laughing and next door's dog barking at the garbage truck. My Australia is friends and family and kids I used to teach. It's home.

  15. Hi my name is Tim I am currently studying Charlotte Mason for my MEd AND I want to start homeschooling my 5 yr old son next year according to CM AND I would love to start a CM school at some stage.
    Can you please let me know where in Vic you are and whether or not we could possibly meet and talk???
    I am in the Eastern suburbs of Melb.

  16. Gidday Tim,

    Ooh! I am so jealous of you, studying CM at Masters level!!

    It would be fun to catch up for a chat sometime. We live in North-West Victoria, but visit Melbourne most weekends. Do you have an email address where I can contact you privately?


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