And I wonder if I’ve left it too late, or if it’s even possible for a white man of my age to pull it off.
I think I may have been lonely, as Tim Lilburn puts it, for where I am, for 56 years.
For Indigenous people, it is different, and it is well past time we asked them if they might help. They whose languages, linguistic marvels, we called primitive, whose very occupation we denied, whose wisdom we disparaged. And where one lives and what one belongs to, and a fair bit of what one means, is ‘country’, and country is, as Deborah Bird-Rose put it, reprising Levinas, ‘nourishing terrain.’ ‘Country,’ she writes, is a place that gives and receives life.
For Indigenous Australians, land is not acreage or real estate or visual catchment or vista or background. Not just imagined or represented, it is lived in and lived with…
In its day, this was a small and unassuming house on a large Bowral block. At what is now the back door, there’s a bell that doesn’t ring, and inside, two hanging tubular bells of unequal length, which, if you flick your finger across them, make the archetypal two-tone chime of doorbells all across the western world.
Now it’s a small and unassuming Bowral house on a small Bowral block. Inside the box from which the bells hang is a sheet of foxed paper, on which in deco typescript are the instructions for installing the ‘electric door chimes’. The house next door stands only two metres away, and a hedge of those genetically modified firs they favour down here disguises a paling fence between the houses.Not merely that my day’s journey has ended but that I have arrived where I live. Scent is a choir, more lyric after dark: it sings a silent forty-part motet.One senses place more at night because one is not distracted by seeing; one inhabits more of the , in which run lapsed agriculture and carpentry and property development and basalt lying over sandstone; sometimes, like tonight, there’s the taint of fallen liquidambar leaves that want a rake; there is woodsmoke, domestic animals, sleeping children and distance.I hadn’t realized how much less my sense of place meant to me than my sense of self, and how much of that sense of self had become my being a father to children I love.And I’m wondering now, while I piece that family together again as well as I can, if it’s possible to nourish the terrain of an anguished self, and of one’s children’s unsettled selves, by renewing a kinship with the more than merely human , as Mary Oliver puts it, that surrounds one.Sometime in the 1990s the owner of my place clearly subdivided and made of the back door, which faces the pines on Kangaloon, the front.And I feel like the house, turned around in mid-life, asked to face what I’d had my back to all these years.7.In the scent of night, all that a place is and all it means, all that it has been and may yet be, the ‘marvelous and the murderous,’ as Seamus Heaney put it, seems to sing itself and want one in the song: all the Bowrals, the lives that ran and ended here; the marriages that swam and sank here; the rocks beneath the rocks and the soils on top; the massacres, the dispossession, that cleared the way for this self-satisfied and pleasing suburb among hills, which I now inhabit.The air smells of geology and the eros of erosion; it smells of the pain all change, all becoming, costs; it smells of garden plant and winter grass, and it’s rank with disenfranchisement and entitlement, and it’s bittersweet with the powerlessness and delight of children.I came back to breathe the same air my children breathe, to walk the same streets they walk and run the same rivers they run.I’ve returned to the town where, for seven years before my marriage ended, I lived with them: in Bowral, Gundungurra Country, along the Wingecarribee.