At home with strays, strayers and stayers

Learning to value the provisional

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  • Published 20180423
  • ISBN: 9781925603323
  • Extent: 264pp
  • Paperback (234 x 153mm), eBook

‘STRAYLYA’. THAT’S HOW I can remember first hearing it – stray-lya – as if it was a place filled with strays. I wasn’t aware at that very young age of paying too much attention to the origins of the country’s name. But later I recall a growing sense of satisfaction that it suited the place my small family had decided to make their home. My parents had been dedicated strayers well before they got here. They’d ridden motorbikes all across Scotland and the north of England in the postwar years. Proud owners of a BSA Golden Flash, they were members of a club that set off each weekend to rumble through the Royal Mile and head out beyond the Edinburgh boundary lines, into the moorlands and hills and glens. When I came along there was a sidecar added, and I became the club’s baby. Lots of pictures of me being passed around – all rugged up with fat, wind-chafed cheeks – to members posing proudly by bikes lined up against backgrounds of fairly grim grey landscapes. Looking back at those old photos now, I realise the club was training me in the art of straying.

Even before the motorbikes, my mum had been an avid cyclist, travelling on a tandem with a mate from John O’Groats to Land’s End. But when she met Dad things got a little faster. The exact reason they set off for Straylya is difficult to pinpoint: partly a run-away from Toryism, but probably also partly the pull of the urge to stray. To stray far. Very far. They didn’t know anyone; they were just prepared to take a punt. It was love at first sight. When the boat first berthed in Perth, they thought all that sky and space were grand. But they got excited and curious and decided to see what the next place was like. Apparently Melbourne looked great too. So did Sydney – they loved it all. But once the Fairsky turned the corner to head north again, Brisbane was the last stop. They had to disembark.

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