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 most of the human occupation of the earth, most cultures have sacralised the land, understood place as imbued with mystery, meaning, divinity, wisdom, lore.
Before Descartes came along and defined a human being as a thinking mind and the Enlightenment demystified reality and rationalized nature and set us human beings apart from it—all cultures have shared an understanding of the world beyond the merely human as sentient and conscious, a Self from which we humans drew large parts of our identity; for most of human history, human beings have not merely occupied but been occupied by the country in which they lived.
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.And I have failed; in this life I have not flourished.And so, I’ve come back to landscape I knew and loved, and where I would have told you I belonged.It’s a stucco place, put up I’d guess just before or after the second world war, just a kilometre out of town.A line of nine pines stands along Kangaloon out front.So that, on another night in a century or two, when someone else stands here, or when an owl flies or a dog wakes, the memory of me will greet them, infinitesimal, in the odour, this olfactory music, of the night.When I lived here the first time, it struck me each time I stepped out of the car that, having driven home from teaching or some poetry gig, that even though I’d travelled barely a hundred kilometres from Sydney, I was in another place, almost another time, entirely than the sandstone realms the city stands on, down along that shore. Last month I moved back to live where my children live.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 do so, humbly, and encouraged by Indigenous people I know, and from a sense that deep down, though it is unique, what Indigenous wisdom knows best and articulates more beautifully and has done for longer than any other, is what has been known and said in so many cultures.6.The house I’ve moved to has been turned about face.