A long time ago, when I was a little girl, my Father used to tell me stories of a hidden Uncle, whom only I could hear but not see. His name was Uncle Willie, and he had a broad Australian accent.
Uncle Willie was a special kind of man who lived in the outback, farmed vast swathes of land and piloted a private light aircraft. Each evening, at my Dad’s request, he would fly halfway around the world and fill my imagination with stories of Australia. Stories like traveling to see the skipping kangaroos or cuddly koalas or snapping crocodiles.
You see I slept in the lower bunk in the bedroom I shared with my elder sister. Our metal framed bunk bed filling a room with an old, dirty purple carpet full of toys and clothes. While my sister had ‘muzzy,’ her white muslin sheet to sniff, I had my Lilly lamb to cuddle and hold to accompany me while I sucked my thumb listening to the pretense of affections from a sweet old-aged man from down under who whisked me away into endless dreams.
Like the time, Uncle Willie endured six days lost in remote bushland after chasing a camel into the outback, with no water and only ants for food, before being found by specialist police trackers. He was wearing shorts, a t-shirt, and underpants when he became lost. The ants were horrible, but the police were lovely!
Or the time when he roasted the perfect marshmallow on the fire, peeling off the golden skin to repeatedly cook for ongoing deliciousness, only for a dingo to raid the camp for food, causing Uncle Willie to drop all the marshmallows into the fire and incinerate.
And then, finally, when first meeting his wife he wore a cork hat and swimming trunks at a pool party. She thought him to be a Swagman or ‘Swagy” as they use to call them for carrying a bedding roll on their back because they couldn’t afford a horse in the old days. It took a long time for Uncle Willie to convince her that he was an ordinary, loyal and decent bloke worthy of her love and trust. But he did win her over in the end, even though the nickname stuck.
Accordingly the next time you think of Australia, don’t think of the Sydney Opera House or The Great Barrier Reef or Melbourne Cricket Ground, think space and freedom and miles and miles of endless possibilities. I do.