You Can Take The Girl Out Of The Country…

love around the world

The question that was asked by the school re-union organisers was about moving. How many times had you been through the process? Without thinking I answered the question with another “do you mean cities or countries?” which  I immediately regretted. I mean what sort of wanker asks for clarification? The question had not come from the all girls city school, it had come from the heart, my home, the school from my home town.

It’s the school re-union this weekend, the faces from my childhood will reappear in their original habitat as a group of 40 somethings. Some have driven a great distance, others have flown in, and for many it’s a matter of heading down the street to the local. I couldn’t be further away from Renmark at this point, I’m currently sitting at a desk in a hotel room in Paris. The girl who happily told her parents at age 13 that she was born in Renmark, would live her life in Renmark, and then die in Renmark, has now lived in seven countries, eight cities, and has moved house over twenty times. This was not planned, nor expected, it just turned out that way.

I have many friends who are solely city people, they don’t understand country life. Some of them think they do, they’ve lived on acreage up in the hills or have a weekender an hour or so out of town – but they don’t really understand country life. To appreciate the beauty of a country community takes time. It’s years of rituals, and families that intertwine.  It’s stories of teachers, policeman, fruit-growers and farmers. It’s football clubs, social tennis, netball and bowls. For my hometown it’s the river, the energy that it brings and the social aspect of water-skiing, fishing, houseboat trips, and a simple trip in a dinghy to visit friends who are camping “up river”.  We lived surrounded by fresh fruit. We celebrated Orange week and picked and cut apricots through the summer.  If it sounds idyllic that’s because it was, it was fresh air, simplicity, and for a child the constant warm blanket of familiarity. While I love that my children have seen the world there’s a sadness that I haven’t given them what I had.

Country life is a lesson in humility right from the start. There’s no “better” suburb to live in, there’s no point trying to be too posh. You will quickly be told to ‘pull your head in’ and ‘get over yourself’. While I love the concept of a fresh start of a new location, and the re-invention that comes in my expat life, it doesn’t exist when I go home. I will always be Kirsty, daughter of Maxine and David, sister of Michele. I was pretty much dead average at everything, both school and sport. I was chatty, a little too over confident in a crowd, yet quietly terrified on the inside. Country life meant that I was routinely put in my place. It stays with you, I see it in other country people, there’s an unspoken code of conduct.

As a child we knew there were things that we didn’t get in the country, city people liked to remind us regularly when they came to visit. Trips were made for the latest fashions, music and movies. I was raised in a world of no KFC, McDonalds or Burger King (something I replicated for my own children by living in Libya). It’s so different now, everything can be downloaded in real-time, shopped online, and discussed in chat forums. Country kids are driven to the city for weekend sports training, books are sent in express post packages. There’s no two year wait to find out who shot JR.

Each year I return to Renmark with my four children for our fix of Granny Max and Gramps. My four little travellers take over the house that I was married in, marvel at the fruit block next door and the occasional visit from a kangaroo or magpie. They’ve asked several times why we don’t live in Renmark and can’t see why G and I don’t just buy Granny’s house and we can all live there together. This conversation usually leaves me with a nostalgic tear in my eye and makes my husband develop a nervous twitch. Our children have eaten all over the world and visited theme parks I could have only dreamed about as a child, but they still believe the deal at the Renmark Club where you get the ice-cream and the glass of fizzy from the barman to be the biggest culinary delight of all time. They’ve been out yabbying in the creeks, fed the possums outside the pub, and Boxing Day is now cricket in the background while they bounce on a friend’s water trampoline in the Jane Eliza lagoon. From the moment we arrive in Australia they are itching to get to Renmark, perhaps there’s something in their blood or maybe it’s Granny’s constant supply of sugar.

And so this weekend while I’m in awe of the greatness that is Paris: the architecture, the romance, the fashion and the glamour, while I sit holding hands with my husband giggling over a glass of wine – there remains to be that little piece of my heart that will stay forever in my hometown. It sits riverside, watching the houseboats go by. I am living proof that you can take the girl out of the country, but you cannot take the country out of the girl.

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