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Written from Memory

Creeks and Kitchens: A childhood memoir
by Maurice Gee (BWB Texts, paper $14.99; e-book $4.99)
Reviewed by Ruth Brassington

Gee_CoverOur family always went camping for Christmas, because my father was a teacher and we escaped the city for the entire summer holidays. There was always a creek to set the red Christmas jelly in a billy held firm by stones and boulders; my dam-buiding skills were put to festive use. Our creeks usually had willows to camp under and the shade aided seeing the ‘bullies in the creek and helping them move house into empy Wattie’s fruit salad tins. I never did see a naked man washing himself in a pool, as did Maurice Gee, but I did see a young couple standing in the water kissing and felt very strange and dizzy – I think their standing in “my” creek felt like a violation, along with something I, aged seven, didn’t understand.

My mother’s kitchen was tiny, and not very welcoming. With two doors in a tiny room that was a throughway between the wash-house/loo and living area, there was no chair or table, just a little stool she sat on by the open door of the oven early winter mornings with her first cup of tea. Gee and I share the view of our mothers as the essential touchstones of our departures and returns, but his kitchen sounds more like the hub of the house, with its “black stove and drying rack, its brown lino, its worn mat and wooden table, the Philco radio on the mantelpiece.”

Creeks and Kitchens is not only a memoir – it shows the development of a writer, from first creeks and kitchens, awareness of sex and death, through to family folkloric and beyond, considered from the distant position of the author at time of writing. It also triggers memories of one’s own. Everything that happens in our lives is incorporated into our views of the present. Gee’s family and community clearly shape his writing in a very powerful way, and this glimpse helps us understand that.

“BWT books are short books on big subjects.” This one may be small, but its impact is big.
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(Other titles in the BWB Texts series are reviewed here.)