Adrift in an endless sky
I’ve been thinking about home a bit since I had my daughter. I remember when I was younger my father told me with certainty that when I had children I would feel the pull back to my homeground – the place where I was born, where I grew taller, longer, more inquisitive. I grew up on a farm in western Victoria, an area in which my father’s family had tended the land for generations. The idea of home to my father was (still is) unequivocally geographic. His home is on those plains, in country the colours of milled corn and eucalyptus blue. As a farmer his relationship to this particular fragment of country is layered and unconditional. He depends on the land for his livelihood, yes, but also for his liveliness. It was his own father’s side of the family whose history lay like topsoil here though; his mother’s side of the family settled in Melbourne and Geelong. For my own mother, the notion of home is more complex – and distant – as she immigrated to Australia from The Netherlands as a child.
Like many country school-leavers, I myself departed for Melbourne when I was 18. I remember rare trips to Melbourne as a child and the sight of the city as I crossed the West Gate Bridge, rising like a great ship, fully lit, in the ink of night. But somewhere in my mind I was also conscious that my grandmother lived in the city, before she fell in love with a young farmer called Jack. My father’s family were proud farming people and while they often spoke about my grandmother’s elegant wedding in a chapel in Hawthorn in the 1930′s, genteel family houses with rosebud gardens, and later, as a farmer’s wife, her infrequent and much-anticipated journeys back to Melbourne to buy china and linen at Myer, this nostalgia did not generally alter their idea of home and heritage which remained nested in the plains.
As an innocent country girl, my first year in Melbourne was tough but I was determined to love it and eventually I found – or actively created – the city I had dreamed about as a little one. I lived there for just over eight years then love drew me to Perth, where I have been for less than eight years but long enough for it to be more than an extended sojourn. It is here that I first lived as a married woman, bought my first home, conceived and gave birth to my first child. In Perth I have more than satisfied the prerequisites for what ‘home’ encompasses – a loving family, nice house, interesting job, good friends, lifestyle. I take my baby for walks in a beautiful park only a block away where we circle two lakes with intriguingly overgrown islands and I point out black swans, pelicans, turtles, fuzzy ducklings. I am spoiled for local gourmand choices. The beach is one short drive away, the hills another. It really is an idyllic life. And yet when the baby was born I experienced precisely that which my father said I would – a strong pull home, tugging at me across the expanses of the Nullarbor. I do also blame post-birth disorientation as when baby was born, all of a sudden, I was a ship at sea. I was neither here nor there. Regardless, this pull towards family was strong – I was frightened by the thought that my parents would never get to know their littlest grandchild. However the pull was not towards the paddocked farm where I spent my own babyhood. It was to Melbourne. My second home; not my first, not my third.
I discussed this with a friend a while ago, also a former country-girl, and she suggested that unlike some, as children we only knew one house, one community, therefore even as independent, travelled adults we were attracted to the idea of one, grounding home. We loved many cities but for both of us Melbourne was ‘home’ even though neither of us lived there at the time. And we could not explain why it was this particular city. Although on reflection this is perhaps because this city is where we had our first unsheltered experiences: university life and a set of firsts that included jobs, relationships, heartbreaks. This does not mean that we are unhappy or even lonely in our other habitations, or that we won’t choose to live in different places again. Perhaps it only means we have come to romanticise the city. And there is nothing wrong with that; we silly, imaginative humans are always threading stories upon wondrous stories. But there is something endlessly fascinating about what defines home. The question of home is not a unique or even particularly bright one, yet we continue to ponder it nonetheless. And I suspect that when the time comes to depart this Indian Ocean city I will feel a genuine sense of loss.
*Image by Lewis Clarke via Wikimedia Commons.