Dad’s shed, Richmond, New South Wales. The summer of ’97

The smell of home brew permeates the air. Taking a sip on the proviso that I ‘don’t tell Mum’. It tastes horrid but I always lie. Trying to remember the lyrics to belt out at the appropriate time to raise a proud smile and an affectionate pat on the head.

I always looked for ways to help out Dad in that shed – he was my hero in blue stubbies and a white singlet that had a big royal blue cartoon thumbs up and the message ‘ok mate’. He handed me an old paint can full to the brim with water and set me to work, to paint the shed; I was intoxicated with the smells of varnish, wood and petrol and as always on the weekends, the leftover cut grass smell of the trimmed trails through which we had followed Dad on the mower with our bikes, like a bicycle conga line.

Paul Kelly was always played in summer, the sunny endless holidays, the excitement of Christmas Day growing ever closer, ticking those days off one by one.

With Kelly’s distinct voice carrying the sentiments of Christmas, How To Make Gravy was always my favourite, although at the time I didn’t pick up on the anguish in his voice and lyrics – I mistakenly thought it was a song for the scorching summer Christmas of every year.

It was only through my parents’ divorce and the breaking up of our family into smaller divided units that I realized the true nature of the story: it mimicked my longing for the characters of my own family and the individual roles we all played on that hot, fantastic day of Christmas where my parents never fought and the house walls rang with laughter.

Years later in Tamworth, I’m belting out all the lines in time with my three brothers, meandering along back streets, the smell of beer on our breath, all recalling the pride of remembered Paul Kelly lyrics in Dad’s shed. Holding our noses to achieve the nasal twang that so defines Paul Kelly’s stories – Hello Dan, it’s Joe here. We all fall to the ground laughing – only we would remember Dad doing this every time the song started. We all individually get lost to a simpler time of grass trails, secret sips and a complete family unit.

© Cassandra Atkinson. Cassandra has also written about Skin by Boy.