The Big Issue : Edition 448
THE BIG ISSUE 26 DEC 2013 – 9 JAN 2014 13 RICKY “Water restrictions, drought, epic storms always in the wrong part of the country: these things are written into Australia’s summer constitution.” OPEN AND SHUT CASE HIS BAG IS packed. It’s the big suitcase; his special, giant, going-to-Australia suitcase. He’s been waiting to pack for days. “I’ll get my big suitcase out,” he solemnly informs Mum. It’s grey. It has two zips and two buckles that are easy to do up but hard to undo. It has wheels. Wheels are essential for the marathon lug from car park to the check-in counter. Waiting in line, he affixes stickers and labels. He writes ‘Ricky French’ in his neatest handwriting. The stickers also say ‘UM,’ but there’s no hesitation about what he’s about to do. ‘UM’ means Unaccompanied Minor. Every summer his Mum ships him off to his Dad’s place, across the Tasman. It’s very important that you dress up to fly; everyone knows that. He’s wearing his best jeans, with his shirt tucked in, hair combed, shoes clean. Three hours later, he will emerge in the Australian summer and recognise it immediately. It happens to us all at this time of the year, a certain moment when we recognise summer. Winter is foreign to Australia. It’s an intruder. Yes, it sometimes wants us dead. Its novelty encourages wishful thinking among city-slickers. The snow season never fails to disappoint. Despair of the Australian snow season is like despair of the New Zealand beach season. Around mid-February, there’s a day in every New Zealander’s life when the realisation hits that summer hasn’t arrived yet...and now it won’t. It’s no wonder so many sell their soul to the devil of the desert. And it’s true I’ve long-since done the dirty on my homeland. Kiwi band The Mutton Birds penned an air to a girl lost to Australia: “The heat comes down, like a thousand suns. Girls with tans, cops with guns...” The song is called ‘You Will Return’. She probably won’t. No, Australia will never fail to dish up summer. Thick, brazen daylight. Summer is wide-awake when we get up and waiting for us when we get home. The cat gives up pestering for food and is sprawled in a heap on the floor. Winter may spit in our face but summer kills us with love. It takes us to bed and ravishes us all night. We complain about it, wish it would bugger off. Resistance is futile. Small talk begins inevitably with speculation about when the cool change may hit, but Australia doesn’t do mild. A whip around the grounds reveals a consistent scorecard. Summer is Sydney’s natural state. The harbour displays the wealth; the beaches display the bogans, the backpackers, the bodies. Perth’s climate is so perfect it’s arrogant. Brisbane knows little else than summer and Adelaide suffers from insane, random heat for no good reason. Only in Melbourne does summer look truly out of place. It’s too far to a decent beach. The decent beaches aren’t decent. The bars are chocked with miserable, wilting sods, and there’s always one spoilsport in the group who says they like the heat. He’s probably a Kiwi. We behave like children. We turn the hose on our dust-caked faces, suck up 7/11 Slurpees. Fair shake of the sunscreen bottle, mate. The grass is razzed, the colour of Kansas. You can’t trust the promise of a lake on the map; they’ve died of thirst. Water restrictions, drought, epic storms always in the wrong part of the country: these things are written into Australia’s summer constitution. All this I knew every time I stepped off the plane in Sydney as a know-it-all kid. Whisked off to the campground, Dad with his shirt off, everyone with their shirt off, cricket between the tents, sausages stuffed into mouths, flies, sticky morning heat in the tent. And all this I knew again just recently; the first real hot day of December in my hallway at home, looking at a certain suitcase my sister brought over from New Zealand when she visited the other week. It was faded grey, with badly-designed buckles, string where zips used to be, rusty wheels. It was laughably small. The baggage of summer childhoods in Australia; weathered, flown the coop, returned. PHOTOGRAPHSBYJAMESBRAUND(RAZER)ANDALANATTWOOD(RICKY) » Ricky French is a writer, musician and man about town. Also our new columnist. You will get to know him. Maybe more about him than you would imagine possible...