My dad grew up on a farm in the wheat belt of Western Australia. A long time ago he moved east to Melbourne, and then gradually so did four of his five sisters. His four brothers stayed in the west.
Every summer of my childhood, my parents, my brothers and I flew across the continent to visit Dad’s family. I learnt to swim in Rockingham, a beach suburb just south of Perth, where the whole tribe went each year. Those holiday weeks are amongst my strongest memories: the heat of the sand under my tender city feet, the glittering scales of the fish that my uncles gutted and cleaned on the back porch, the sweetness of the corn that the aunts shucked and simmered in huge pots for lunch, the sound of the mandolin and the slap of cards in the evenings, the deck chairs of the open air cinema, the carnival that came alive at dusk with merry-go-round music and ornaments that I was desperate to win even though I knew they would turn into chalk before the summer was over.
After I married, the visits to WA stopped. We went once as a family for a reunion in Rockingham about 25 years ago, and then I didn’t go again. My uncles are all dead now.
Then this year Daughter Number One and her family took off on a caravan journey around Australia (she has an article about that trip in the current Green Magazine), and in early November she was turning 40. Farmdoc and I promised that wherever she and her family were on her birthday we’d be there to celebrate with them.
They weren’t sure where they would be. Perth looked like being the nearest airport so we booked flights there and, because wherever they were they’d be staying in a caravan park, we booked ourselves a small campervan.
We flew into Perth, picked up our van and drove to meet them just a little north of the city. We spent two nights there, just long enough for a quick visit to Kings Park and an afternoon in Fremantle – mostly at a small brewery overlooking a giant sand pit and the harbour.
After that we followed Frankie Blue, their old caravan, down to Busselton, where we stayed for the rest of the week.
On Kate’s actual birthday I guest blogged across at Foxs Lane. That was fun. We celebrated the day with a pancake breakfast that Kate made herself, a fancy lunch, a walk along the famous Busselton jetty, and a homemade pizza dinner.
The rest of our time we explored the beaches, towns and vineyards of the Margaret River region. We didn’t do as much walking as we’d hoped because it rained, but we talked and laughed and hugged each other lots. And ate icecream.
Early every morning we were woken by knocking on the door of our van. ‘Who’s there?’ we called. ‘Who could it be?’ When we slid the door open there was four-year-old Pepper, smiling a big proud smile, ready for a snuggle in bed with us. Some mornings her big sisters joined us too.
Now we’re back on the farm and Kate and her family are still exploring the south west corner of Australia, the Nullabor Plain ahead of them on their journey home. The children are making their own memories that they’ll take out years and years from now, to recall the sun glistening off the waves, the fusty smell of a rainy day spent in a closed-up caravan, the sound of their dad’s ukelele and their mother’s rich laugh, the sight of turtles, dolphins, coral reefs and beaches encrusted with millions of shells, as well as the months and months of rituals – jokes repeated, words invented, and friendships made in one park and cemented in others.
Happy birthday, dearest Kate. Thanks for looking after us so well. And for tomorrow, happy eleventh birthday Indigo.