Someone commented on my last post that they had never heard of one of my favourite authors, Elizabeth Honey. I’m not surprised, as I don’t know to what extent she is sold outside Australia, since her stories are so Australian. Not Australian in a Crocodile Dundee, ‘put a shrimp on the barbie’, over-the-top Australian – authentic Australian. At least, what authentic Australia is to me. This was why I loved these books so much when we lived overseas – they sang real Australia to me, suburban, ordinary-life Australia.
One of my favourite passages from Elizabeth Honey’s work is in Fiddle-Back, when the families from Stella Street have gone camping for the holidays. They have just realised that someone has been taking their food. Someone blames it on a possum. Someone blames it on fairies. Six-year-old Frank asks:
‘Mum, do you believe in fairies?’
‘I tried to,’ said Donna, ‘but they never quite worked for me. We didn’t have a potting shed at the bottom of the garden, or a stile near the dell, or those mushrooms with spots, like fairies like to sit on. Fairies seemed too pretty and delicate for our creeks and paddocks and gum trees.’
‘Haven’t we got fairies?’ asked Frank, worried that we’d missed out on something.
‘We could invent some,’ said Zev.
‘No,’ said Cass. ‘You can’t just invent things like that. They have to be old and sort of language-worn, like the round stones of the river.’
‘I think the spirits here would be strong,’ said Danielle. ‘Not flitty fairies with wimpy wands and fairy dust.’
‘The Aborigines have rock-dwellers and other spirits like that,’ said Zev.
In the flickering firelight I could almost imagine something lurking in the shadows behind us.
That’s about as ‘Australiana’ as Elizabeth Honey gets, but I like it. To me, Elizabeth Honey gets what it is to be a kid in Australia. She gets milo, school holidays, the beach in winter, violet crumble. She doesn’t lay on Australia too thickly, she just spreads it softly. It’s like taking a bite of toast with Vegemite – you have to spread it with butter to make it taste just right.