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Why Australia?

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It all started in 1979 with a movie. My dad was not a father who was generous with compliments, advice, or even gifts. So when he did say something, it felt like a drop of gold. I remember over dinner when I was 17 (in 1979), he said, "I saw a movie that reminded me of you." THAT piqued my interest. The movie was My Brilliant Career. It was the story of a "headstrong girl" in Australia who falls in love, but instead of marrying her wealthy beau, she decides to work and follow her dream of being a writer. It was a great movie! But it also imprinted on me the landscape of Australia and a sort of hissing bright wildness that called to me.

In my early 20s I met my first real Australian. I could see that hissing bright wildness in his face and grew quite fond of the determination (stubbornness), straightforwardness, and sense of "humour" he represented. It felt familiar--in some ways more familiar than my own country. People always say I'm "down to earth." And Australia feels like a whole country that's down to earth--and that earth is dusty, fragile, fragrant, and dangerous, but exciting, too.

Then came more movies: Strictly Ballroom (BAZ!); Picnic at Hanging Rock; Muriel's Wedding; The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert; Paperback Romance! Oscar and Lucinda! Deck Chair Danny! Kenny! And that's not even mentioning the stereotypical fun of Crocodile Dundee. I also feel that because I'd seen so many Australian movies, I was one of the few people in the universe who actually understood, appreciated, and truly enjoyed Baz Luhrman's movie Australia, which was a satire within a satire of epic romantic proportions. This world was gritty, tough, mysterious, funny, uninhibited, wild, and not afraid to laugh at itself. I wanted to see it for myself. But it was so far away and, you know, I've had kids on school schedules for the past 30 years, so time was limited (and to go there in our summer means being there in their winter).

Now let's talk about music: INXS. Midnight Oil. Crowded House. The Greencards. Casey Chambers. Keith Urban! These are not artists that often got played on the radio, but, for me, they became soundtracks to my life. Midnight Oil at the gym and walking down the burning-hot summer streets of my hometown. Crowded House EVERYWHERE, all the time. Keith Urban was my introduction to Country music, and I was thrilled for him when he finally hooked up with fellow Aussie Nicole Kidman, who I always knew was way more talented than Tom Cruise. I've seen Keith in concert four times, and it's always so much fun. He's even got me watching American Idol again.

And then, of course, the books and learning about the dreamtime: The first book I read was Songlines by Bruce Chatwin--so dreamy and mysterious, revealing an aboriginal culture that was so different from any other on Earth and yet similar in all the important ways, in its love of the land and respect for nature. Then, after studying Permaculture with Bill Mollison (a Tasmanian), I read his autobiography, Traveling in Dreams. Fascinating! I also truly enjoyed The Brother Gardeners, which deliciously documents the plant-hunting adventures of Joseph Banks and Captain James Cook, who were the first to sail into "Botany Bay." And most recently, I read Bill Bryson's In a Sunburnt Country, which was HYSTERICAL.

Almost every time I tell people I want to go to Australia, someone says, "Oh, you should go to New Zealand--it's even better." But I feel about Australia the way a POME (Prisoner of Mother England, i.e. Brit) feels about his football (soccer) team. You are born into it and you can't change it, no matter what the winning or losing record is. It's just who you are. Australia is my team.

So that settled it. My youngest is finally old enough to survive without me for three weeks. I can afford three weeks away, thanks to all my hard work of the past few years. And I'm going. By myself!

I'm most looking forward to the things that can't be found in books or movies or music...the smell of the air and the earth and the ocean, the tastes, the sounds at night. I'm finally going to see the night sky from the Southern Hemisphere--the Southern Cross! The plants! The animals! The food!

Of course, I'll keep ya'll posted on how it goes....

For more from Maria Rodale, go to www.mariasfarmcountrykitchen.com