Saturday, 28 November 2015

I've been reading lately...

Island Home by Tim Winton

This book follows beautifully from the harrowing Blood on the Wattle I read last week. Tim Winton puts some salve on the wounds with his reflections on how he loves this land, and how deeply it has affected him.

The book came with me to Kanangra Boyd National Park on the weekend. 

He begins with the assertion that though we non-Aboriginals may not have a long history of connection to this wide, ancient land, we may be shaped by it more than we realise. He's not speaking of "Australia the Idea", which, he says, is just a vague political and social notion, but the physical land itself. 

"I'm increasingly mindful of the degree to which geography, distance and weather have moulded my sensory palate, my imagination and expectations. The island continent has not been mere background. Landscape has exerted a kind of force upon me that is every bit as geological as family." 
I found this comforting because though I'm a lover of our natural landscapes, I have sometimes felt, with my sun-sensitive skin and lack of knowledge of the land, that I don't truly belong here. Winton admits that us newcomers have been "like alien cells entering an organism", but we're here now and must find our own sense of connection to country. He suggests lyrically this may be by "submitting to its scale, acknowledging its irrepressible particularities, listening for its cryptic music and seeking to learn its ways".

On the topic of white invasion, Winton makes an interesting distinction when he says he feels ancestral shame for the way Aboriginals have been dispossessed of their land, but he does not feel guilt. He says we are not responsible for the culture we're born into, "but that doesn't mean we're absolved from reflecting upon our inheritance." This is an idea I haven't heard before and need to contemplate for a while.

The book is partly an unfolding, meandering essay on the important places in Winton's life, from the bush over the back fence in his Perth childhood to the rocky coves and surfspots of his Albany teenage years and the many trips he's taken as an adult. Each chapter provides insights into the source of the preoccupation with landscape that shines through in his novels.

Though at times I felt the book was lacking a bit of charge,  it gathered momentum and built up to the last glistening chapter. While acknowledging that those in power in our country are willfully blind to the call of ecology, Winton writes with a fragile optimism about a change coming through with younger generations. He  sees it as vital that we finally listen to our Indigenous people, whose wisdom is "the most under-utilised intellectual and emotional resource this country has" as a way forward. And on this he pins his hope for our land, that we finally accept this gift that has been offered and spurned for many decades.

This book inspires me on my journey to learn more.

[Thanks for the lend of the book Jo & Pete!]

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