Archives for posts with tag: land

I’ve fallen in love with Australia again. Like someone you don’t want to/can’t marry but can’t walk away from. Lucky me, I don’t have to.

So yesterday I headed further in, to the big empty west. From the train (perfect transport), I watched the rainy green fields round Bathurst give way to scrubbier bush under thin clouds until everything gave way to dirt and sky. Look:

At Ivanhoe and beyond we saw emus prancing prehistorically (refraining here from posting blobs in mid distance). Small bouncing animals turned out to be goats and there were unfamiliar roo breeds in all directions.

Then further into desert, until sunset over Menindee lake, full of water this year, after many dry.

Bliss.

(well not only bliss: no cabs at Broken Hill meant walking for 40 minutes uphill through strange dark streets till I found my allotted bed).

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It’s six months since I left Australia – though Australia hasn’t left me, and probably won’t. Haven’t written any entries since Dubai. Too shellshocked by hemispheric upheaval/new job/old house full of other people’s debris/living out of suitcases for two months then blocked in by boxes when everything arrived in Leeds. But it’s probably time to wrap up this blog. I wanted to share the experiences – good and bad – of relocating across the planet when not in first flush of youth.

The following are notes on returning to previous location but not previous life (The Shock of the Old?). Some are captured before Brexit vote, some after (e.g. What have I DONE???).

  • I’m driving up the M1 in my hired car and I can’t remember the speed limit.
  • Got lost twice today in Leeds visiting old friend – roads are familiar so I stay on them, but expected roundabouts fail to materialise.
  • After some years of ‘fancy a coffee/movie/meal today?’, it’s back to ‘ are you free in a fortnight’s time?’
  • Newscasters and reporters have aged – men more than women probably because they wear less make up.
  • Nicholas Parsons is STILL on radio 4  – but I can’t remember the schedule any more, so don’t know how to avoid him.
  • All the shops are part of chains & franchises – only independent retail seen today in Leeds far was the great Jumbo records, still going
  • But Huddersfield has cool indie coffee shops (#northernteahouse) and Sowerby Bridge has good food. I go for drives and am happy to eat alone – another legacy.

Everything looks strange – my anthropological eye is now cast homewards. This is exhausting so I spend  lot of time in my hotel room, asleep.

Then I move back into my old and much missed home, but it isn’t mine. Every cupboard is full of tenants toothbrushes, discarded duvets, old cutlery.There’s a gnome in the garden. I remember another life in that house, but it is a long time ago and I seem to be haunting it. Things improve when the stuff I shipped back arrives – nice pieces from the Blue Mountains – and I start fitting the Australian and Yorkshire parts of the jigsaw together.Six months on and there are still a lot of boxes to unpack, but no rush. Things also get better when friends come to stay and I recall that home consists of people not things.

The UK I have returned to is changed – 5 years of Coalition then Tory Government – creating a particularly cruel, vindictive use of benefits system to punish the poorest and most needy.  I don’t think Australians would allow this to happen (to non-Aboriginals anyway). They still have a public sector, and trade unions. UK has voted to leave Europe, having already sold its heritage to corporate speculators and hedge fund bankers. The place is full of toxic fantasies. Back to Blighted.

But I do like the bustle, the full trains, the coffee shops at every corner, the new M&S food hall at the bottom of my road. And I like the variety of human beings that surround me, in shops, trains and – a real contrast – work. So many non-white faces at last. It’s also brilliant that London is a train ride away, Spain a short haul flight. I can pop round for tea with my dad, find my place in the family again, while I slowly reconnect with old friends, whose lives have also changed in the past five years. There have been births, deaths, divorces, moves of all kinds. Lots of catching up to do.

The main thing, though, has been getting to grips with the new job. As usual when life feels chaotic, I turn to work as my anchor. Six months on, this has been a good call – my ideas and contribution are valued and I work with several talented senior women at Huddersfield Uni. There have been some teething problems with rooms and so on but I haven’t felt gender-conscious since I got back to UK. It’s a bigger relief than I expected. Seriously, Australia, you really need to make better use of your very fine females. Even the nice guys are in the way. I miss my lovely women friends, Bernadette, Jo-Anne, Michelle, Jane….

I miss the sounds ALL the time – the kookaburra dawn chorus, possums on the roof, the magpie arpeggios. I notice every gum tree (one, rather forlorn, at the back of my Leeds house and a beauty in Spain). I corner Antipodean friends and colleagues at conferences, parties, anywhere, to talk about the place. No-one here knows or cares that much. One person sneered that Australia didn’t even have a decent mountain range; I pointed out that it was so old a land mass, they had been eroded.

But then I didn’t know how old the land was until I got there and it told me. You feel it all the time, this ancient presence, just waiting, sometimes welcoming, sometimes shrugging us off. You can feel your feet sinking in – if you want to.  I have left but not forgotten. Australia introduced me to geological time.

Now Europe looks so young, with all its pointy bits still sharp and edgy. All the workable land is worked and has been for thousands of years, unlike the vast emptiness of Australia. Took a visiting prof with a farming background over the Yorkshire moors and he could see how many farms there were occupying space that would have been one maybe two stations back home. The land here tells of lords and peasants, strip farming, inheritance law and people striving to feed themselves over millennia. It’s just a different story.

I guess that’s my conclusion – everything is altered by the experience of living in Australia. What was familiar is no longer, but then its new strangeness has a new wonder. At first I wasn’t sure about going back, it’s not something I do much. Now I can see I haven’t gone back, but forward.

 

January 26 is Australia Day, the anniversary of the first European settlers arrival. In other words, it commemorates the last five – white –  minutes of Australian history and disregards the rest. Following the universal general degradation of patriotism to nationalism, it has been co-opted to privilege one version of history over all others. I thought this cartoon about the call on the populace to stop what they’re doing and sing the national anthem at noon was satirical. I was wrong.

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And then this morning, heard that the top Australian honour has gone to Prince Philip. Honest. Thank God that these things are handled so ineptly they feed the opposition.

BUT, but but. Something is changing in me and this seems as good as any a day to record it. For example, this is the first post in months, because I no longer experience Australia as a visitor; it’s where I live and work. I’m not really Down Under any more, just here.

I also noticed in my recent role as tourist guide and fellow adventurer with my sister, Kate,  on her first visit here over Xmas, I kept saying ‘we do this, we do that, here’. Seeing the now-familiar through her eyes was also instructive, and this post is about some of those observations (pt1).

Kate arrived with a foot infection that worsened over several days, leading to multiple interactions with pharmacists and eventually (successfully) the Emergency Room – every single person was so kind, concerned, helpful and warm. And I felt proud! You can, of course, still find this generosity in the UK, especially in the north of England and outside major cities, but it struggles against the pressures of business and rotten wages and the long years of austerity which have barely touched Australia despite various pleas to tighten belts.

I also had a great time doing touristy things that turned out to not so touristy after all. I assumed Katoomba’s  Scenic World would be some kind of sub-Disney tat, but it was brilliant. The thrill seekers took the funicular down and made their way briskly to the Up transport, abandoning the temperate rainforest of the valley floor for us to explore. The interwoven strands of roots and 19th C mining cables were poignant, like traces of a lost civilisation, which I suppose they are.

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Admittedly the Jenolan Caves did look more like Disneyworld, on the surface at least, with a kind of Tyrolean look that seemed tenuously connected to the site and its Indigenous stories. But once underground, the magic was way beyond Walt’s imagination, with delicate organic structures as mysterious and beautiful – and old – as this land. Like a visit to the body of the Earth, folded and dark. The guide told the origin stories with such feeling our group of gawkers fell silent and let the tale seep into us like the crystal drips we could hear in the background. And then we emerged to the Blue Lake and fell silent again.

Jenolan Caves

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Blue Lake

Third visit to Wiseman’s Ferry on the beautiful Hawkesbury River.

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First drawn to the place by Kate Grenville’s The Secret River, a novel based on the life of her ancestor Solomon Wiseman who settled the place, having arrived at the Sydney penal colony in chains.

Secret River

Then read Sarah Thornhill, the daughter’s story and now the History of the Secret River, about researching both novels. I get the sense of the immediacy of this history – the house that Wiseman built in 1826 is still the main pub, the chain ferry still runs all day, the landscape is unchanged since settlement. But, as she makes clear, it was utterly changed by the settlers who simply took the native lands, treated Darug people’s crops as weeds and planted their own European plants, using violence – including legal murder – to protect their takings. Grenville is aghast as she discovers for the first time in 2000 that the aboriginal people hadn’t all gone  by the time of settlement, the same story another friend learned at school.

At lunchtime I went to the regional museum in Windsor which has a collection of leg irons, farming and boating implements from the early 19thC and other artefacts from settler life, including a pamphlet called Marriage and Sex for Brides which I thought was very progressive until I noticed the publication date – 1966! But there were only two passing mentions of the people whose land this was/is – they are just not present in this version of history.

I seem to be more conscious of history here than in my own much older home, not sure why. Maybe the contrast between this very recent European presence and the tens of thousands of years of indigenous culture and the even older rocks before that – the land in Australia is the oldest on the planet, that is rocks formed millenia ago are abundant as I understand it – need to learn more.

Right now I’m at this funny hotel called Australis Retreat which is really a golf place but actually is a retreat too – I’m finishing the first half of my book and refreshing my reading on Jungian matters before starting into the second half. A perfect place to work – v peaceful setting & a beautiful saltwater pool for sunset swims at the end of the day. A good way to spend my birthday today – so good I’ve decided to stay on a couple of nights and hope the fires that closed the main road after I arrived here will be settled by the time I return. It’s safe here, but the fires are pretty scary on TV. Hope to avoid  closer contact.

Spent a lovely few days at Wiseman’s Ferry on the Hawkesbury River, reading and thinking about next chapter. This is the location for Kate Grenville’s marvellous books, The Secret River, which I read lastyear and Sarah Thornhill, which I finished last night. They tell the wild west stories of settlers who first bought or blagged their way out of the penal camps round Sydney to go up river and strike out alone, a tale of hardship, reinvention and hideous crimes against aboriginal people. The cemetery in the pix is home to early settlers, no memorial for their victims I guess. The pub, the Settler’s Inn, is the oldest pub in continuous use in Australia, since 1836. Lovely place, beautiful spot. The river is wide and peaceful, despite it’s history.

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Failed to upload footage from Queensland trip, so they ended up on Facebook – see my page (https://www.facebook.com/johanna.fawkes?ref=tn_tnmn) for links.

But I do have some snaps from the Raintree Forest and Cape Tribulation Beach (where James Cook ran aground on the coral reef, limped to shore and claimed Oz for Blighty). One of them shows a huge spider, but completely unscary as it’s in its own home, might be jumpier if it were in mine.

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Being the only sole traveller, I sat up front with the driver on the day tour to the rainforest. At one point he mentioned that he’s visited northern Europe as his wife is Danish, but couldn’t get overt the amount of clothing everyone had to wear. “They kept having to put stuff on then take it off” he said in the incredulous tones of one who spends all year in shorts and T.

I’m getting the hang of winter here – which means more layering and unlayering even than Denmark as it’s bloody freezing (1-5 below 0) for the first few hours and again the moment the sun drops. But @ midday the sun is warm, even if not enough to warm the air, like a taste of spring. And given the miserable summer the UK is having I’ve been grateful for the amount of sunshine I see, even through iced windows.

As I may have mentioned earlier, I’m not complaining about the cold but about the local refusal to accept it. It’;s as if the collective myth of the good life is incompatible with the reality of long cold winters, so the houses are built for the tropics. Everyone knows Australia is a hot country, don’t they? I could see my breath the other morning as I woke up and reaching for my glasses to check the time, they fogged when I put them on. Leeds is hardly sultry but I’ve never been this cold indoors. But am learning local skills and am now fully equipped with at least one heater in every room, electric blanket on the bed and  flanellette pyjamas and sheets – my grandma would approve.

This disjuncture between myth and reality is part of the imposition of a European mind set on a non-European continent. All the imported trees and flowers, all the place names (you get to Sydney via Liverpool, Camden Town, and Parramatta) and the custom of ‘Christmas in July’ because Christmas should be in winter…. I understand holding on to what you know, I’m the same, downloading BBC Radio 4 arts, politics and comedy podcasts, trying to keep up with Olympic shambles there and Labour factionalism here. I keep thinking of Ray Bradbury’s astonishing short story, Dark they were and Golden Eyed, which I re read last week for the first time since I was about 15. It’s even better than I remembered – but how remarkable that it should haunt me so vividly over so many decades. Read it and see what you think – to me it’s a study in colonialism, nostalgia and the futility of trying to tame nature.

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Back for a few days to Jervis Bay for reading and writing – supposed to be walking as well but wettest autumn in 15 years cascaded in front of my little cabin in the woods, day and night. Oh well, got some reading done. Enjoyed the kangaroos lounging on the lawn as I left, looking very relaxed and a little louche. Also saw my first echnida – a lovely creature negotiating itself between an anteater and hedgehog but built like a stocky rabbit.

Left early, but drive back was glorious – hours without seeing another car – stopped under the Milky Way for a moment to listen to the frogs, cows and movement of the spheres.