Wearing oversized clothes was a part of life for me as a kid. On account of growing up in a poor family, most everything I wore was at least one size too big.
Many would use the word “underprivileged” to describe the way I grew up, but I regard it as a privilege – more and more as I’ve gotten older.
I remember standing on a wooden pallet under a canvas camp shower that hung from a wattle branch on frosty winter mornings. Mum would put enough water in the bag to get you wet, you’d lather and scrub and then she’d put enough water through to get you rinsed off. That water had been carted on the back of the old ute, in plastic drums filled up from the weekly trip to town. To heat it we had a forty four gallon drum we’d light a fire inside and an old copper that sat above the flames.
We lived without power and all the modern conveniences that come with it for many years. The screen of that era was the TV and we didn’t have one. We didn’t have any of the gadgets and toys that many kids had. My family lived in a one room shack and at the end of long days engaged in the business of making do and getting by, we’d spend evenings with each other – reading, writing, creating, conversing. With the few basic tools I had at my disposal, I was encouraged to make things. I’d also play a lot of imagination games, running around outside in the bush for hours and hours. Eventually I got my hands on an old guitar and a wondrous new world was opened to me. It’s a world I still joyfully exist in.
I also felt safe inside a deep sense of love and security that I was wrapped up in. My parents did a mighty job of creating that and making sure we didn’t want for anything. Looking back as an adult I have a deeper appreciation of the sacrifices they made, but I’m sure I barely know the beginning of it.
Adversity will either break you down or build you up, and when you have kids to raise, I guess you just have to stand up to the mountain of struggle that’s in front of you and dig deep. More than just wearing hand-me-down clothes that take some time to grow into, I think of the attitude required to grow taller than the challenges in front of you as ‘sizing up’. It’s one of the most profound lessons I learnt from my parents.
As I kid, I didn’t just get to see my mum and dad do that, I got to do it too. Those life lessons and practical skills I picked up have stayed with me. I’ve always loved making things myself – anything from a doll house to a house house, a guitar, a unicorn cake for a 9th birthday or a pair of boots.
At some point my hardwired ‘do it yourself’ ethos, merged with my love of guitars and music and I built an acoustic guitar. There’s nothing quite like the satisfaction of the first time you hear the strings vibrate on an instrument you’ve made yourself. The satisfaction is multiplied when you write a song on that instrument and record it or play it live – setting it free into the wild to create its own story.
Today a song called Size Up is being set free into the wild. It tells the story of growing up in the way I’ve just described, and offers encouragement to rise to the challenges of life and learn and grow from them. It’s not slow, weighty, or preachy – It’s fun, upbeat and positive – like the memories I hold of my ‘underprivileged’ upbringing. I feel immensely proud of both my upbringing and the song.
Size Up is the current single from Felicity Urquhart and Josh Cunningham and it’s out on ABC Music. It’s a track from their forthcoming second studio album together titled Birdsong. The album is due for release on September 29, 2023 and Felicity and Josh will be touring Australia through October and November.