Nikki Gemmell is an Australian writer and commentator. For many years, she and her husband and their three children lived the expat life overseas, in the United Kingdom. In this memoir, entitled Why You are Australian: A Letter to My Children (4th Estate Books HarperCollins Books Australia 2017), Gemmell does indeed write a love letter, to both her children and to her home country of Australia. In it, she explains why she chose to give her children Aussie citizenship over British (so they could be future politicians, perhaps? Oh wait, no, that wasn’t mentioned…), why she decided to bring them back to Australia for an extended three-month holiday (to immerse them in all that culture they’d been missing), and why her family then decided to return to Australia permanently. (This edition includes an extra chapter on the 2009 edition, written after they move back.) The book is peppered with notes taken from her journals and diaries, and observations she has made over time. In the midst of bustling and busy English life, she fears her children are missing out on the advantages of an Aussie childhood that she had growing up; she fears that to remain overseas will mean they will probably never ‘come home’.
The delight of this book is the language, idiosyncrasies, the memories and even the stereotypes that she describes, and the quintessential Aussie lifestyle that she depicts, with which we are probably all familiar. She has a way with words, a comforting and easy style that sort of feels like we’re chatting to a friend. And while some of her observations may be through glasses a little rose-tinted, it is, after all, a ‘love letter’, and so it is packed with fondness and yearning. Despite this, she does occasionally veer into areas of criticism about Australian colonialism and parochialism, but not often.
Some readers will love this short book because of Gemmell’s rich and inviting depictions of our landscape and our environment – the light, the colours, the sounds, the people – which remind us of the best of our country. Others will respond to the intimate and frank depiction of motherhood, marriage and identity, and the dreams we hold for our children.