Not a Normal Summer

If it had been a normal summer,

Josh would have driven to the coast on New Year’s Eve.
His day shift at Maccas finished at 5.00pm so he’d have had plenty of time to get down the mountain before the serious partying got underway. He would have listened to his mother’s warnings to drive carefully, nodding politely as she said it wasn’t him she concerned about but all the other idiots on the road. Josh had been due to meet Dave and Johnno in Batehaven where Johnno’s mum had a holiday house. He was hoping Sam might be there, too.

Gilly and Jo would have worked whatever hours they could at the local IGA, saving for their gap year adventure.
They already had their plane tickets. They could recite their departure details by heart: QF1 from Kingsford Smith’s Terminal 1, departing at 17:00 on 4 February, arriving Heathrow, Terminal 3 at 06:15 the next morning. Although Jo had explained it countless times, Gilly still couldn’t understand how the flight could last 24 hours when they were leaving Sydney on Tuesday afternoon and arriving in London on Wednesday morning. Fortunately, Gilly had early entry to the Con; her complete inability to grasp the basics of physics would not seriously impact her music career.

Kate and Oliver would have been camping at Durras.
After two days, Oliver would have been fed up with tents and mosquitos and camp kitchens and shared shower blocks. Kate would have been in Pollyanna mode, spruiking the pleasures of reading and relaxing, and ramping up the joys of no work deadlines and no fighting over the remote control.

Marj would have spent most of January in her kitchen churning out meals for her children and grandchildren.
Tom and Elspeth and their pampered pooch would have been with her for the first week of the new year, followed by Josie and her tribe of kids for the second and third weeks. Josie would have to go back to work after that and Marj would have had the kids on her own. She would have built sandcastles with Kendra and Kit; she would have lost track of Kyle in the surf.

But it was not a normal summer.

Josh didn’t go to the coast because the road was closed between Braidwood and Nelligen.
He didn’t meet his mates. And he didn’t meet the CX-9 that would have failed to take the Northangera bend.

Gilly and Jo didn’t earn enough to bring all their plans to fruition.
Holidaymakers stayed away in droves and the supermarket didn’t need casuals to stack shelves and stand at checkouts. Gilly and Jo still made it to the UK and they bombarded Instagram with images of their Top Deck tour. But their money ran out after that and they came straight home. They didn’t get to New York, and Gilly didn’t meet Jack after the concert at the Julliard School. The two aspiring trombonists never jammed together; never toured together; never lived together.

Kate and Oliver abandoned their camping trip.
They stayed home and binge-watched Schitt’s Creek and Killing Eve and Fleabag. They ordered Uber Eats five nights in a row. They went to bed late and got up later. Phoebe arrived in the first week of October. It turned out that streaming services and takeaway dinners were more effective than IVF.

Marj’s offspring decided they wouldn’t go to the coast.
They also decided that Marj shouldn’t be there on her own. Tom drove down to collect her on New Year’s Day, taking the long route through Cooma and Nimmitabel and down Brown Mountain. Marj didn’t want to leave the house or Tom Snr’s roses, still flourishing above his ashes. Tom cajoled and sweet-talked and eventually lost patience; Marj acquiesced for the sake of peace. Installed in Tom and Elspeth’s guest suite, Marj slept poorly. At 2.00am, she went to make a cup of tea. She was congratulating herself on negotiating the stairs successfully when her bare foot sunk into the clipped fur of Cleopatra’s belly.

The fires changed plans and lives and futures. The fires changed everything.

© Tessa Wooldridge 2020


In December 2019, sections of the Kings Highway between Braidwood and Batemans Bay in southern New South Wales were closed to traffic due to bushfires.
The highway re-opened on 14 January 2020.


The following organisations are among those providing bushfire relief:

Further options for donations can be found via the ABC Appeals: Bushfire Recovery Relief webpage

Image (above and featured): excerpt from Fires Near Me map, 14 Jan 2020 07:10.
Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 licence © State of New South Wales (NSW Rural Fire Service). For current information go to


Gordon’s Story

Gordon was a small, brown, stuffed gorilla. He lived on the bathroom shelf with a lion named Lion and duck named Duck.

Gordon’s home was in the middle of a very large city where the traffic roared all day and all night. He couldn’t remember ever living anywhere else. But one day, most unexpectedly, Gordon was kidnapped from his home by a roly-poly woman.

As soon as he could, Gordon sent a message to his owner. This is what he said:


I have been kidnapped!

The roly-poly woman who was staying with us took me away in her suitcase. For a long time, I was in a dark place. It was bumpy and noisy, and I was scared. When all the moving stopped, the woman took me out of the suitcase and put me in a jumbly room with lots of books.

I miss you very much, but I am trying to be brave. Say hello to Duck and Lion for me. Tell them not to worry.

I will write again when I can.

Your boy, Gordon

Two days passed. Gordon was feeling sad. Once again, he wrote home.

Dear Thomas,

I am lonely here. The house is very quiet during the day. If it is quiet again tomorrow I will go exploring. Perhaps there are other animal toys here. The roly-poly woman shuts the big door to the jumbly bookroom, but there is smaller door that stays open. I will try the small door and see where it goes.

I am still your boy, Gordon

The next day Gordon was brave enough to go exploring. This is what he wrote about his discoveries.

Dear Thomas,

I have wonderful news! I went exploring through the small door and there are other animal toys here! They are much bigger than me. There are some very large teddy bears who keep to themselves. But there is also an elephant called Flynn and another gorilla called Jackson. I like Flynn and Jackson very much. They are friendly and kind. I feel much better now.

 Flynn and Jackson say there are even more animal toys in other rooms and they will take me to meet them.

 I will send you more news soon. Your boy, Gordon

It was many days before Gordon wrote again. His life had become quite busy in the house of the roly-poly woman. He visited friends in other rooms and roamed along the passageways and then scurried back to the jumbly bookroom when he heard the woman’s footsteps. During one of his expeditions, Gordon found a room he had not been in before and inside that room he found an animal toy he had never met before.

Gordon and Kim introduced themselves. They liked each other straight away. In fact, they became instant friends. From that day on, Gordon and Kim were never apart. They played together on the stairs, they slid down the banister, they climbed on the shelves in the jumbly bookroom. They were very happy.

When Gordon finally wrote to Thomas, this is what he said:

Dear Thomas,

I am so excited. I have met a gorilla called Kim. We are spending lots of time together and are having a great deal of fun. Of course, I do still miss you and Duck and Lion, but if I hadn’t been kidnapped I would never have met Kim. Isn’t life surprising?

Thomas, I think I must be in love.


Only one more letter was sent by Gordon to his owner in the large city. He was quite nervous about writing it and it took him some days to gather the courage to pick up his crayon. As he wrote, Kim sat quietly by his side.

Dear Thomas,

there’s something I haven’t been telling you about Kim, but I’m going to tell you now and I hope you won’t be cross. I think it’s best that you hear it from me.

He’s purple.

There, I’ve said it. I know it seems a big difference and some people will think a purple gorilla is a little strange and they might not accept us. But I think he’s wonderful and we really love each other, and it doesn’t matter to us that we’re different colours.

Will you tell Duck and Lion for me? I hope you will all keep loving me and that I can bring Kim home one day to meet you. I think you would like him.

Your Gordon

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‘Gordon’s Story’ was first published in Four W 15 (2004): 89-91. It is re-published here, in a slightly revised form, to celebrate the successful passage of the Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017. The text of the bill and transcripts of speeches are available on the Parliament of Australia website.

Photo credits: Gorilla, soft toy: (Creative Commons Zero – CC0). Other photos are free to use and share, but please attribute and link back to the blog.

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