Geraldine Brooks Talks Expat Life

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Geraldine Brooks may live on Martha’s Vineyard, in Massachusetts, but Pulitzer Prize-winning Australian author still owns a little piece of home.

What took you to Martha’s Vineyard?

When I was 11, I had a penpal who lived on Martha’s Vineyard. Every summer she’d send me postcards of this gorgeous place. When I went to graduate school in New York, I mentioned to a classmate that I’d always wanted to go there. He was going that weekend and invited me along. I ended up marrying him and after travelling the world as foreign correspondents, we decided to move here 10 years ago.

Where are you from in Australia?

I grew up in Ashfield and Concord, in Sydney, but when we were first married we bought a little house in Balmain and we’ve still got it – thank goodness.

How has your life changed since moving to Martha’s Vineyard?

There was a time when I lived with a suitcase packed in the closet ready to go anywhere in the world. Now I have a horse, alpacas, two dogs and two kids in school and I don’t go anywhere.

What do you miss about Australia?

I love the landscape, the light, the smell of the bush, the way the sandstone pokes up out of the thin soils, the amazing, almost fleshy forms of the angophora gums. I love the piss-taking attitude of people; the way everything is always a bit of a joke.

Are you considered one of the locals on Martha’s Vineyard?

No, I’m a “wash-ashore”. Anybody who wasn’t born here is a wash-ashore.

What do you like most about living there?

Being Australian, I’m a bit of a beach snob and Martha’s Vineyard has some of the world’s most beautiful beaches. It’s a long-settled rural place... You feel really connected to a rural past that continues. The year-round community is different from the glamorous summer crowd. We don’t have to lock our door – we’ve never had a key to the house – and we leave the keys in the car’s ignition.

Do you get involved in the summer scene?

Oh yeah, it’s a lot of fun. European plutocrats and politicians come to pick the pockets of their wealthy supporters who summer here. You get Clinton and Obama and then you turn around at the farmers’ market and Jake Gyllenhaal is buying his leeks behind you. It’s fun to see them come – and to see them go.

How long do you think you’re going to stay?

I think we’ll always be here for part of the year because I’ve developed a very deep affection for the island but I’d like to be back in Balmain for the other half of the year.

What’s your favourite restaurant on Martha’s Vineyard?

I like to go down to the fishing village when the fishermen bring in their catch. A few fishing shacks shuck the oysters and hand them to you on a paper plate and steam clams straight out of the water. You sit on a lobster pot with a bottle of crisp white wine.

What about a bar?

There is a bar scene but that’s not what we’re here for. We have a regular night on the beach; everybody brings their favourite bottle of wine and we watch the sun go down and rate it from one to 10.
Any advice for a new expat?

Find something you’re passionate about in the new community and get involved. And bring your Australian sensibility. 

Geraldine Brooks’ new novel, The Secret Chord, is out now.

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